Thursday, September 21

Men’s basketball’s loss against Oregon will serve as inspiration

EUGENE, Ore. “”mdash; Bill Walton, the smiling legend of UCLA basketball, spoke to reporters before Thursday’s UCLA-Oregon game. He was here to serve as the Bruins’ honorary captain in a pre-game ceremony that celebrated the final season of the 84-year-old McArthur Court.

The Mac is a true monument of college basketball history, and Walton spoke of it with the reverence of a great basketball historian.

He explained how for him the Mac stands a symbol of the array of emotions that fill both life and the sport of college basketball.

He reminisced about how he loved to make Oregon fans “cry in their beers.” He recounted the heartbreak of what he called “The Lost Weekend” of his UCLA basketball career, when the top-ranked Bruins came to the state in 1974 and lost consecutive games to Oregon State and Oregon.

“I will forever have that stain and stigma on my soul,” he said. “I’m looking for salvation, but it just won’t go away.”

He says this with nostalgia, always reiterating how lucky he is, and using a tone that expresses his deep passion for the game of basketball. I was struck most by Walton’s complete appreciation for this sport.

So let’s look at this one with Walton’s wisdom in mind.

The Bruin’s lost a heartbreaker, 71-66 in overtime.

It doesn’t have the historical gravity that Walton’s loss had in 1974, but it still brings the pain of crushing defeat.

But for all its sting, this is also a game that can inspire players to work harder. I don’t think it will derail the Bruins as much as it will spur them toward improvement.

UCLA fought against the ferocious screams of the 7,528 fans in attendance at the Mac. They battled and held their poise throughout.

UCLA will learn valuable lessons from this loss. They can tweak their zone defense and reconsider their rotation.

But maybe the most important thing is the confidence the Bruins can gain in knowing that they faced the fire. They played in one of the most intense atmospheres imaginable. As Walton said beforehand, this place is “like a movie.”

“It felt like my ears were shaking,” UCLA sophomore guard Malcolm Lee said.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt said.

Those types of feelings will make the Bruins better down the road; they can enter unfriendly arenas with the poise that comes from knowing they’ve seen tougher.

And they vowed to keep their heads high.

“You have to take the good and the bad,” Lee said. “This is what basketball is all about. This is what we live for.”

I imagine it’s the type of game Walton lives for, too. He thrived in such epic moments, bringing two NCAA championships to Westwood and winning two more in the NBA.

When UCLA’s Michael Roll hit that 3-pointer at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime, Walton only smiled. At the intermission he stood as if to collect his thoughts and process all the amazing things that have happened in this amazing building.

And after the final buzzer rang and the Oregon fans roared at their victory, Walton stayed standing at his courtside seat. As a crowd of spectators swarmed around him, Walton shook hands, signed autographs, and smiled.

It was a fitting final image for this night of truly awesome basketball, a night that no one really wanted to end.

E-mail Allen at [email protected]

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