WINNER TAKES ALL? UCLA SMOTHERED DUKE IN A MATCHUP THAT HAS NEVER FAILED TO FORETELL THE EVENTUAL NATIONAL CHAMPION

March 03, 1997

UCLA coach Steve Lavin is a man of many metaphors, similes,
analogies and cornball cliches, and they come at you fast and
furious, like a driving hailstorm. They range in theme from the
maritime (when he took over for the fired Jim Harrick two weeks
before the season began, Lavin felt as if he had been made
"captain of a ship that had already set sail in the middle of a
storm") to the automotive (in the Bruins' 48-point loss to
Stanford on Jan. 9, the Cardinal was "hitting on all cylinders
and our wheels fell off") to the pugilistic (his team's game
against Duke on Sunday "was like a championship fight, two
heavyweights going toe-to-toe").

Though Lavin had already used the fight analogy at least once
this season (in a 74-71 loss at Louisville on Jan. 25, UCLA was
the heavyweight that "didn't get up off the floor"), it was
particularly apt on Sunday, when the No. 17 Bruins hosted the
No. 6 Blue Devils at Pauley Pavilion. No title was on the line
in this matchup between the leaders of the Pac-10 and the ACC,
but a few weighty things were at stake. Foremost, perhaps, was
momentum: UCLA had won its last four games; Duke, its last
seven. And for NCAA-tournament-seeding purposes, both teams
needed to show some muscle against a formidable nonconference
foe. Going into Sunday the Bruins were 0-4 against high-caliber
teams outside the Pac-10. Duke, similarly, had lost to Indiana
and Michigan, two of its four ranked nonconference foes this
season.

Sunday's game had particular meaning for Lavin, who idolizes
Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski and has pestered him for
nuggets of coaching wisdom for 10 years. "Coach K is the ideal
coach for the '90s," says the 32-year-old Lavin. "He is a
successful coach, husband and father. That's all I want to be.
He is my role model." (Asked on Saturday how that made him feel,
Coach K said, "Old.")

Adding further interest to the game was a historical sidelight:
Every time these teams had met in Pauley--twice in 1966-67 and
once each in '92 and '95--the winner had gone on to earn the
national title. And so on Sunday an arena-record 13,478 fans
shunned L.A.'s beautiful 76[degree] weather and packed
themselves into Pauley, which, need anyone be reminded, has been
home to more than a few great teams in the last 32 years,
including all but the first two of John Wooden's 10 NCAA
champions, as well as the national champs coached by Harrick two
years ago. "It was the loudest I've ever heard it in there,"
said UCLA junior forward J.R. Henderson after the game. "My ears
actually hurt."

The 11 a.m. start also had Henderson suffering. "I'm not a
morning person," he said by way of explaining his somnolent
play, two points, one rebound, in the first half. Once noon
arrived, however, he was jolted awake, scoring the Bruins' first
six points of the second half to stretch UCLA's one-point
halftime lead to seven. The Bruins would trail five times in the
final eight minutes before Henderson delivered the knockout
punch--and his 15th and 16th points of the half--on a putback
with 56 seconds left. Junior guard Toby Bailey, whose defense
stifled Duke's three-point sharpshooter, sophomore Trajan
Langdon, all day, sealed the 73-69 win by sinking two free
throws with 15 seconds to go. Thrilled down to their flip-flops,
UCLA students stormed the court.

Two months ago it would have been difficult to imagine anyone
getting excited about this game. The Blue Devils, the preseason
No. 10 pick, struggled early, barely beating Florida State in a
home game in which starting senior guard Jeff Capel scored no
points and was actually booed by the Duke fans. Against Michigan
at home, the Blue Devils squandered a 12-point lead in the final
10 minutes and lost. In ACC play they opened 2-2 and were
largely forgotten in the hubbub surrounding the eye-catching
starts of Wake Forest, Clemson and Maryland. Duke didn't begin
shaping up as a possible No. 1 tournament seed until early
February, when it switched to a smaller, faster, three-guard
lineup. By the time the Blue Devils arrived in Los Angeles last
Friday, they had quietly built a game-and-a-half lead in the ACC.

UCLA's road to the Pac-10 lead had been even bumpier. After
Lavin, a former Harrick assistant with no head-coaching
experience, stepped into the top job in November, the preseason
No. 5 Bruins lost to Tulsa, Kansas and Illinois in the space of
five weeks and then hit rock bottom at Stanford, losing 109-61,
the worst defeat in school history. Critics accused players of
being concerned only with their personal stats and their NBA
prospects, and slapped an underachiever label on UCLA. "Every
guy on this team feared that we would go down in history as a
team that didn't live up to its potential," says junior swingman
Kris Johnson. "We all doubted our worth. It got very depressing
for a while."

Meanwhile, Lavin, toiling under the thankless title of interim
coach, was trying to plow through two seemingly impossible
tasks: instilling discipline into a team that wasn't used to it
and ignoring the naysayers who were skeptical of his youth and
inexperience--a group that, much to Lavin's shock and
disappointment, included Harrick, who said on ESPN in December
that he didn't think Lavin would be hired permanently. (He was,
on Feb. 11.) "I sought advice from other coaches," says Lavin.
"Krzyzewski was the one who told me to concentrate on the
players. They were the ones who really needed me."

When he took over, Lavin posted on every player's locker a list
of the 23 components of the "Bruin Attitude," such as going to
class, not cursing on the court, and showing up on time to
practices and games. Henderson, Johnson and sophomore center
Jelani McCoy all tested Lavin's limits on punctuality shortly
thereafter and found themselves sitting on the bench. Swearing
or pouting on the court was punished with wind sprints for the
whole team.

"Basically, we had to decide to do what Coach says," says senior
point guard Cameron Dollar. "It sounds simple, but we all had
different ways we wanted to go. It took a lot of running sprints
for his way to sink in."

"It would have been difficult for me to teach without
discipline," says Lavin. "I believe that a disciplined athlete
is a more successful athlete. I believe that you have to create
a climate of accountability."

At the same time, Lavin created a climate of comfortable
predictability, in part with his familiar catchphrases. "I call
them Lavisms," says Johnson. "The things you know he's going to
say every day, like 'step by step' and 'brick by brick to the
Brickyard' [a reference to the Bruins' progress to Indianapolis,
the site of the Final Four]. At first we all thought, Oh, come
on, you've got to be kidding us! But when we realized that's
just him, we all bought into it. I think the Bruin Attitude has
made a big difference. It has changed our mentality. We used to
be brash and cocky. We're more humble now. We've all grown up a
lot."

Senior forward Charles O'Bannon, whose older brother Ed was the
leader of UCLA's 1995 championship squad, agrees. For more than
three years he has played below his potential, his occasional
flashes of brilliance offset by lapses in focus. Last year at
Duke, for example, he was benched for the first half because he
had missed a mandatory morning workout. His excuse: He had been
out late the night before celebrating his 21st birthday. In the
first-round tournament loss against Princeton, he blew a few
layups and a key defensive assignment late in the game. And
early this season he seemed reluctant to become a team leader.

Early on Christmas Eve, Charles had lunch with Ed and their
father, Ed Sr., and talked about how he could improve his mental
preparation for games. "My problem was that I spent the last
three years trying to prove that I'm not like Ed," says Charles.
"That was my downfall. Why try to be different from something
that's right? Ed is a great basketball player, a great person
and a great leader. Why not be like that?"

O'Bannon, who leads the Bruins' five double-figure scorers with
an average of 16.5 points and pulls down a team-high average of
7.0 rebounds, is still not as vocal as his brother--Dollar does
most of UCLA's on-court barking--but he now plays every game
hard and with emotion. "Charles has three things that make him a
real meat-and-potatoes player," says Lavin. "He has a great work
ethic and good concentration, and he is playing with great
passion."

You might say the same of Lavin's coaching. "If I'd had time to
reflect on what I've taken on this year, I might have been
overwhelmed, coaching the Yankees of college basketball," says
Lavin. "One of the few blessings of jumping in at midstream was
that there wasn't time to be analytical. I've had to keep
working, keep moving."

The Duke game, in fact, was the first one this season that Lavin
was sure he would enjoy. "I knew this game would be special
because I would get to coach against a man I really admire, one
who has shared insights and advice with me," he said.
"Regardless of who won or lost, this was going to be fun."

But by Sunday afternoon Lavin's world had shifted slightly on
its axis. "He's not looking up to me today," said Krzyzewski
after the game. "I'm looking up to him."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK McCoy (34) and Johnson put the squeeze on Capel as UCLA finally beat a Top 10 nonconference foe. [Jelani McCoy, Jeff Capel and Kris Johnson in game] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK O'Bannon no longer fears comparisons with older brother Ed. [Charles O'Bannon in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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