First Blush

Reflections and sightings from [almost] daily jogging at dawn

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sunrise 5:54 am: Defense, determination and the Dance


The female DJ felt the first stirrings of that unmistakable mix of quesiness and butterflies as the Dawn Joggers headed up the first of the two long Big Dish hills. Yes, it's only a game, but it's the Big Dance and the UCLA Bruins are on the card for the first time since 1995.

Today's Final Four game seems to boil down to defense - not just the Bruins', who's defensive style of play under third-year coach Ben Howland has transformed a floundering program - but LSU's, a team that held its opponents to a lower scoring average than the Bruins. The oddsmakers favor LSU, although the spread has shrunk as the week progressed.

Determination is the other thread. Ben Howland grew up entralled by Bruin basketball and in eighth grade vowed to a friend that he would grow up to be a Division I coach, according to an article in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle. LSU star Glen "Big Baby" Davis successfully navigated through a childhood in which he bounced between foster homes, shelters, his grandmother's house and an older brother due to his mother's drug addiction. UCLA seniors Ryan Hollins (now nursing a bruised thigh) and Cedric Bozeman used determination to both battle injuries and adjust to a new coach and program.

Will the edge be the Big Dance itself? UCLA has won a championship 11 times, mostly under legendary coach John Wooden, who unfortunately isnt' making the trip to Indianapolis. Neither this history nor the powerful tradition of Bruin basketball impresses Big Baby who told the assembled press corps, "U-C-L-A is just a couple of letters on the front of the jersey to me."

Well, we'll see. Go Bruins.

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