Members of the UCLA men’s basketball team generally stay in the arena long after games end, talking with family members, taking pictures with fans and reminiscing about that particular day’s result.
Those postgame sessions have been cut shorter this season at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in order for the team to board a bus back to Westwood Village, back to the noisy yet nearly completed construction at Pauley Pavilion, which forced this year’s team to be dubbed the “Bruin Road Show.”
After Saturday’s thrilling 75-69 win over Washington on Senior Day, senior guard Jerime Anderson couldn’t help but admit he was glad he had played his final game in the Sports Arena, even if it was his last regular-season game at UCLA.
“I think it was definitely something to get used to,” Anderson said. “We weren’t particularly happy about where we were playing.”
As Anderson talked, the de-UCLA-ification of the Sports Arena began. Fans removed the white “Bruin Road Show” slipcovers that were covering the dingy red chair backs, which curiously read “Dallas Convention Center.” Blue-and-gold supporters bid adieu to their temporary downtown home next door to the cardinal-and-gold L.A. Coliseum, a chilling reminder of its proximity to rival USC.
Although UCLA’s 11 national championship banners hung at the Sports Arena and two of them were won there, they were often the only things in the upper bowl, as attendance was lacking. Only 3,885 people showed up to see UCLA beat Pepperdine on Nov. 28 and no game this season saw more than 10,000 fans (attendance broke the 10,000 barrier twice last season at “old” Pauley Pavilion).
The road show, a much talked-about issue at the outset of the season, ended Saturday just as the UCLA began playing some of its best basketball. They beat Washington State on Thursday by the largest margin of any UCLA team in more than three years and ended first-place Washington’s chances at an outright conference title Saturday.
“Our guys have handled it well and done an outstanding job of handling the adversity of not having an on-campus arena,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
Winning games in the Sports Arena wasn’t always easy. Early season losses to Loyola Marymount, Middle Tennessee State and Texas at the Sports Arena sent UCLA’s season into a tailspin, and many fans were ready to place the blame on the less-than-welcoming environment created by the 53-year-old facility.
UCLA soon righted the ship and went on to win 13 of its next 14 games at home, including four at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“As the year went on, we got a lot more used to this arena and started playing a lot better in it,” said Anderson, adding that the experience will assist the Bruins as they try to win four games in four days at next week’s Pac-12 Tournament at nearby Staples Center.
Neither Howland nor his players have kept it a secret that they are ready to leave the venue in the dust as they prepare to move into a renovated Pauley Pavilion next fall.
“It’s definitely been an experience, but the Sports Arena was good to us,” sophomore guard Tyler Lamb said. “Honestly, I’m ready for Pauley next year.”