When UCLA faces St. John's in a nonconference game Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, it will mark the return of former Bruins coach Steve Lavin.
Lavin said he expected to receive a creative welcome from the UCLA fans, but Bruins coach Ben Howland says he hopes the fans don't cross the line as he felt they they did against USC on Wednesday night.
Several times during that game, fans chanted "F--- SC," over and over. Howland said it was uncalled for.
"That was obviously something that we don’t condone," Howland said. "I was excited about how enthusiastic our fans were, especially the students, but we absolutely do not condone that cheer. ... This is a very classy place and we want to represent the university in a first-class manner. It’s really unfortunate and it’s something I need to address because we don’t need that."
Rise and (try to) shine
Game time Saturday is 10 a.m., an early start to accommodate a national broadcast by CBS.
It is the second morning game in three weeks for UCLA. On Jan. 22, the Bruins played Stanford in an 11 a.m. game.
"10 a.m. is obviously an early game," Howland said. "It's going to be an early rise and breakfast for these kids."
Most concerning for Howland is that against Stanford, the Bruins got off to a sluggish start and fell behind, 22-8, before a second-half rally helped them prevail, 68-57.
After that game, the players acknowledged the early start hampered them.
"We had an 11 a.m. game here two weeks ago and it took us a little while to wake up," Howland said. "We got off to a very poor start in that game and that was an hour later in the day. Hopefully we’ll do better this time in terms of getting off to a good start."
St. John's (13-8) and UCLA (15-7) are both considered bubble teams for the NCAA tournament, so it's an important game for both teams, but probably more so for UCLA.
St. John's is No. 20 in current RPI projections and plays in the Big East so the Red Storm still has ample opportunity to get some quality wins against the likes of Connecticut (No. 10), Pittsburgh (No. 7) and Villanova (No. 15). Plus, St. John's is coming off an impressive victory over then No. 3 Duke (No. 9).
UCLA on the other hand, is No. 44 in the RPI. The Bruins have a victory over BYU (No. 3), but St. John's and Arizona (No. 18) are the only top-20 RPI teams remaining on the Bruins' schedule, and they've already lost to Arizona.
"It's a big game because we need to get a win against a good team," guard Jerime Anderson said.
UCLA players are aware that Lavin's return is a big deal to fans and alumni, but to them it's not all that important.
Understandably so, considering most of them were tweens when Lavin coached the Bruins from 1996 to 2003. So, it's no surprise that when the players were asked about Lavin, blank stares ensued.
"Huh?" said Joshua Smith, before trying to pass the microphone and let another teammate address the subject.
Smith relented and said "I think he was here and was one of the coaches when they won the [1994-95] national championship."
Guard Malcom Lee interjected: "No he wasn't. He was?"
Smith and Tyler Honeycutt informed Lee that Lavin was an assistant coach for that team.
"I thought you meant head," Lee said.
"Learn your history, man" Honeycutt said.
The bottom line?
"Saturday, we're trying to beat them so we're not really focused on him returning or anything like that," Smith said.
Hair he is
Lavin was known almost as much for his gel-slicked hair as he was for his coaching while at UCLA, but he said this week that he uses less hair gel now than he did back then.
"I'm trying to do my part for the environment," Lavin said. "It's a combination of both style and environment motivated that change."
Anderson, however, said he might have a special greeting for UCLA's former coach.
"I'm going to say 'What's up?' to him," Anderson said. "And then I might try to rub his hair or something."