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Sports Watch & Wonder



John Randolph Rogers

This time last week the Trojans were facing nearly insurmountable odds. There was just the slightest hope, that they would get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. The task that lay ahead of them was to win three straight victories in the Pacific 10 Tournament. Every long-suffering Trojan fan knew that this was an impossibility. I was a student at USC, when John Wooden was winning for those 11 titles. So, like all other Trojan fans, I am an expert on heartbreak and disappointment. I did not dare to allow myself to hope that this year would be different.

The expectations of the Trojan Basketball Team are so low that many of their games are not televised. We have learned to feel fortunate that the games are still broadcast on the radio. The Trojans could have been invented by Rodney Dangerfield.

So, I think that I speak for most Trojans when I say that our hopes were not very high last Thursday night. The California Bears were waiting, and that meant trouble. However, the Trojans dispatched them by a score of 79-75. So far so good, but UCLA was waiting, and every Trojan knows what that means. They were here to dash our dreams again, like they have done so many times in the past. Miracle of miracles, the Trojans eked out a 65-55 win, in a game that was closer than the score indicates. With UCLA out of the way, Trojans sensed that another victory was possible. They bought an additional 4000 tickets for Saturday's game against Arizona State at Staples Center. The Trojans were good and lucky, and they came back from a 17 point halftime deficit to win by a score of 66-63. They were now on their way to the Big Dance. Fight on!

After decades of pointless wandering in the Basketball Wastelands, the Trojans had finally made a statement. UCLA has ruled his turf for more years than we care to remember. We wish them well, except when they play USC. They have been put on notice, that from this day forward, they will have to deal with a new sheriff.

UCLA (25-8) has traveled back to Philadelphia to play Virginia Commonwealth Rams (24-9) this coming Thursday. This is a tough, battle tested team that is led by Eric Maynor, one of the top point guards in the country. Their coach Anthony Grant is a rising star, and his leadership has been responsible for the prominence of the team. This is not a well-known team On the West Coast. Neither was the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes, when UCLA went there to play them in 1995. That team was coached by Tubby Smith, then a rising star, and he upset the Bruins and sent them home. He also taught the Bruins some geography. When they were told that their first tournament game would be in Tulsa, Tyus Edney, one of their players asked, "Where's Tulsa?" They found out before coming home.

USC (21-12) will meet the Boston College Eagles (22-11) in Minneapolis on Friday. This is a team that has stubbed its toe a few times this year, but it did get victories over North Carolina, Duke, and Florida State. They are coached by Al Skinner, and he is a very experienced tournament coach. This team has played against tougher competition than the Trojans. While I regret to say so, I believe that they should be favored to win. For those of you, who are historians, both UCLA and USC will be facing teams that are coached by African Americans. By my count, nine of the 65 coaches are African Americans. Make of that what you will.

Tiger Woods was back in action last week. He got off to a slow start, but he should be encouraged by the fact that he made a very strong finish. I suspect that it may take two or three more tournaments, before he gets back into the winner's circle. He appears to be in better physical shape, than he was before his surgery and also in very good spirits.

Trevor Ariza scored a career-high 26 points against the Dallas Mavericks. The league did not fine or suspend him, for what was called a flagrant foul in the game against Portland. He did make unintentional contact with the opposing player who hit the floor very hard and was later removed on a stretcher. However, the videotapes revealed that Ariza did not intentionally attempt to injure the other player. Ariza shows promise of joining Kobe Bryant and Pao Gasol as the Lakers top scorers. He is also their best defender. All in all, after five years in the league, he seems on the verge of becoming a star. This could not happen to a more deserving person.

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