By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two weeks ago I was on the UCLA campus, roaming Westwood after doing a stint on Rome. As many times as I'd been on the campus, I'd never spent time there. I was a USC guy. More hood, more I.

But this time I felt something different. My boy Biscuit picked UCLA to be in the Final Four after watching the Bruins in the Pac-10 Conference tournament. I agreed with him, except I thought I had seen this Gonzaga squad before, in 1979. I saw Birds. Sycamores.

But I didn't argue with him. Not with the Encyclopedia. I, like he, felt something brew'n.

So I took a day. An L.A. day. Maybe I'd luck up in two weeks and have a story to tell. "Who knows," I said to self, "the Encyclopedia may be on to something."

Maybe UCLA is on to something.


Outside on the streets of Indianapolis it's like one huge tailgating party.

People walking around in orange, others in powder blue, others still rockin' Mardi Gras beads and Cinderella slippers.

More from the right coast than the left.

The Lids shop is thick. People flowing through with thick accents, talking that Florida slanguage.

"Got tickets?" one Gator fan with a huge "F" on his chest asks. "I bet ya wish ya did," he laughs, flashing his Section 319 pair.

More fans flow on the streets. They stand listening to live music from the MyCoke bandshell, walking around wearing faux Joakim Noah wigs and real Eddie Munster masks -- Florida's best player and coach are somehow omnipresent.

They fear no tradition. "Eleven titles mean nothing to us," a guy in Champs bar inside the Hyatt shouts. Seconds later Noah appears on the television. "It's not about tradition -- it's about basketball."

Maybe Florida is on to something.


Let's be honest here -- this is not about greatness.

In an NCAA Tournament that has captivated the nation -- with bracket-shredding mid-major upsets, a Cinderella squad making it to the next-to-last game, no No. 1 seeds left -- this historic ride that ends tonight does just that: ends tonight.

As great as the UCLA-Florida battle will probably turn out to be (anytime a semifinal comes off as sorry as Saturday's did, the final game usually makes up for it), both teams probably will be forgotten once the final strand of nylon is clipped.

And maybe it's because ESPN got through airing The Greatest College Basketball Tournament Ever, but the Gators and the Bruins both give off the impression they're lucky to be playing this year. Because if either were playing against the 2004 UConn squad or that 1996 University of Kentucky team, NCAA president Miles Brand might call the game before the opening tip.

Tonight's game, even if it comes down to a Michael Jordan-Keith Smart game-winning shot or a Rumeal Robinson free throw, won't go down as a classic. In reality, this will be the final game of an era when great, dominating, special teams were obsolete in college basketball. With the new rules changes for entry into the NBA, with players having to spend at least one year after high school before entering the draft, with every kid we just saw in the McDonald's game and the ones we'll see next week in the Roundball Classic, the landscape of the "One Shining Moment" game is about to go back to what it was.

No longer will two teams void of superstars or with ballers that no one's heard of outside of Gainesville or Westwood make it to play after April Fool's Day.

But as pessimistic as that belief is -- especially on the eve of the one game that is normally more important than any game played during the NBA Finals -- it doesn't negate the fact that the Florida vs. UCLA game will culminate one of the most memorable two weeks in the history of the NCAA Tournament. And still, no one has any idea of who's going to win. Which team impressed you the most Saturday? Throughout the tournament?

You have no idea, do you? Only a feeling.

The pundits say teams that win it all always win a game inside this final two-week span that they were supposed to lose. Down 11 with three minutes left against Gonzaga, that was the game UCLA was not supposed to win.

Florida hasn't had that game. Not yet.

At this point, when two teams are not expected to be where these two teams are, you look for things -- intangibles, idiosyncrasies. You reach.

Instead of realizing that UCLA's squad may be the most efficient defensive team we've seen in the past 15 years; that it can win games most beautifully (Gonzaga, Alabama, Belmont) or most ugly (Memphis, when the Bruins shot just 35 percent, and LSU, when they shot 26 percent in the second half); that it has the ability to take away every strength of its opponent … instead of realizing those facts, the fictional stat of panic basketball -- how a team balls when it's about to lose -- reigns supreme.

Which is why I go back to the visit. Of all the school's in this year's tournament, especially since I live in Illinois and am surrounded by every university in the Big 10 and the Missouri Valley Conference, why did I decide to visit the campus of UCLA?

Coincidence, fate, God … Bill Walton must be up to something.


Back on the campus of UCLA, I headed for the bookstore.

Mbah a Moute jersey in mind. Roots wear.

Went past the adidas-issued paraphernalia. Went past the seven ATMs. Went past students sitting at tables and on the floor, studying for finals, drinking Starbucks.

Went up to the second floor.

On a rack is a selection of New Eras. Classically fitted, classically colored, all hologrammed.

"Maybe I'll get some gear," I said to me. "Just in case."

I held the 7 1/8 Boston Red Sox'd "B" un-Carolina blue 59Fifty with "Bruins" scripted on the back. Went over, found the white "B" hoodie to John Witherspoon it.

Walked up to the cash register … changed my mind.

I felt something different.

Fate stepped in. It said: "Scoop, you'll be back in L.A. in a month. By then all of the gear will have 12-time National Champs on it."

Maybe I was on to something.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has weekly segments on "Cold Pizza" and "Classic Now" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. You can e-mail Scoop here. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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FEELIN' UCLA