Bruins Ruined!—By John Huang
As a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, the mere mention of UCLA basketball would immediately invoke in my mind a magical sense of awe and wide-eyed wonder. In my own imaginary world, Coach John Wooden would pencil me into his starting lineup alongside Lew Alcindor, Lynn Shackelford, Curtis Rowe, and Henry Bibby. Together, our team would win a slew of consecutive national titles and become the envy of every competing college program in the land.
Outside of my make-believe universe, I knew that Coach Wooden didn’t really need me as his 5’8” power forward. The Wizard of Westwood, with his pyramid of success, would produce a UCLA dynasty and nearly a dozen national championships symbolic of THE gold standard in the world of collegiate hoops. How ironic then, that it would be the mighty Bruins who would defeat my beloved Kentucky Wildcats in the 1975 National Championship—in what would turn out to be Coach Wooden’s last game before retirement.
I discovered that revenge, even forty years later in a regional semifinal, tastes just as sweet. When that clock finally struck zero and the FedExforum scoreboard read Kentucky 86—UCLA 75, I felt that customary concoction of emotion whenever the Cats advance—elation mitigated by relief, excitement comingled with gratitude, celebration stirred in with anticipation.
In this rematch of the titans, De’Aaron Fox took his point guard battle with Lonzo Ball personally, scoring a career-high and freshman NCAA tournament single game record of 39 points. Backcourt mate Malik Monk resurfaced with 21 points, and the rest of the team did just enough to collectively offset another outstanding effort by UCLA forward TJ Leaf. Kentucky accomplished what Coach John Calipari intended, slowing the pace and mucking up the game intermittently to disrupt the high-powered Bruin offense. For much of the evening, the Wildcats made UCLA work on the defensive end of the court and for their efforts, they were rewarded with another Elite Eight appearance on Sunday.
At this point in the tournament, there really is no rest for the weary. Up next is the University of North Carolina, the #1 seeded team in the region. The Tar Heels easily defeated the Butler Bulldogs 92-80 in the other semifinal matchup. Frankly, they looked unbeatable. They’re also a team looking for their own version of revenge after losing to Kentucky earlier this season. I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite ready for the end of this run. I want to keep dancing on Beale Street and savoring the taste of Rendezvous Ribs. Please Memphis, “Don’t Be Cruel” to my Wildcats. Let’s hope the Tar Heels get “All Shook Up” on Sunday, and it’ll be “Heartbreak Hotel” for the boys in powder blue.
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.
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