A 22-point blowout win over one of the nation’s top teams, a move into a tie for first place in the Pac-10 Conference, and Reeves Nelson’s best game of his UCLA career “¦ all outshined by one meaningless basket.
Well, meaningless as far as the game goes.
Because for the UCLA men’s basketball program, that basket meant the world.
The Bruins defeated the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats on Saturday afternoon by a score of 71-49, but it was points 70 and 71 that may be remembered in Bruin lore forever.
“I got some tears in my eyes because, thinking about Coach, it was so fitting that Tyler Trapani, John Wooden’s great-grandson, made the last shot in the history of this building,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland after the game, pausing to fight back tears.
Saturday represented the last game in Pauley Pavilion, which for more than 46 years has remained in the same state as when it opened and the famed Wooden was head coach. Pauley will be undergoing renovations and will not reopen until the 2012 season.
So undoubtedly, there was a buzz going through the arena during the blowout victory, one surrounding the win and one surrounding the need for a special moment, which came full force in the final ticks of the clock.
With 47 seconds left to play and the Bruins leading 69-48, Howland called a timeout in order to substitute Trapani, along with four other Bruins who rarely see playing time, into the game.
On the next play after the timeout, UCLA freshman guard Jack Haley popped out to the wing for a wide-open 3-pointer that came up short but landed square in the hands of Trapani under the basket. The junior guard calmly put the rebound up and in and sent the UCLA crowd and bench into hysteria.
And after the game, Trapani’s shot effectively sent his coach to tears.
“I pray a lot, and to have Trapani make that last shot means so much to me, you have no idea,” said an emotional Howland. “And I know it does to his family and all those former players. What a cool way to have the last basket ever. This was just a great day for us, and to finish like that really is special.”
In attendance Saturday afternoon, making the day even more special, was the 1971 UCLA men’s basketball team, celebrating the 40th anniversary of their national title, which was UCLA’s fifth in a row and Wooden’s seventh overall.
And in honor of the ’71 Bruins, Howland and his troops broke out the retro UCLA jerseys.
“It was cool today to wear the retro jerseys with the “˜Bruins’ on the front,” Howland said. “I hope the ’71 team enjoyed that.”
As for Trapani and his teammates, it seemed to have taken awhile for the magnitude of that final basket to actually set in. But after seeing just how emotional Howland was after the game, they quickly realized that Bruin history had been made.
“I didn’t notice at first, but then he just started kind of breaking down and crying,” sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt said. “He explained why, and then everybody thought about it. This is a big honor for (Trapani) to make that last shot.”
“For me, I’m still kind of baffled at what just happened,” Trapani said. “I usually really don’t get in, and it’s just an honor for me to be here and be on the team. It’s more about being here to get an education and going on in life, but right now … I pretty much feel like my great-grandpa basically put me in the position to have a spot to just catch the ball and put it back up. I’m so grateful for that, and I’m so grateful for being here.”
It has been a little more than eight months since Wooden’s passing in June, but Howland, along with Trapani, both reiterated that they are confident of Wooden’s presence in every aspect of their lives, especially on the basketball court.
“It would have been beautiful for him to be here today, but I think he was here in spirit,” Howland said.