A lusty ovation.
The acoustics were far more pleasing for the Bruins on Thursday night on their home court than they had been in weeks. Fans who vacillated between booing the team and steeping in uneasy silence during the end of the Steve Alford era became enthusiastic supporters anew.
AP’s Beth Harris said it was the loudest cheers of the season:
Although Pauley Pavilion was just over half full at 8,026, as it was for much of Alford’s tenure, the same fans who booed the Bruins last weekend responded with the loudest cheers of the season.
Speaking of Murry Bartow, it had to be an emotional night for him. Not only was he coaching the team his Dad coached and for whom he was a ball boy, but, as he described, it was an anniversary night:
My dad was a great coach. Passed away seven years ago today, so it’s a little emotional for me to think about it. My dad had great memories of being here at UCLA…The best thing about my dad was [he] was an incredible people person. That’s really the biggest takeaway for me—just how to treat people, just anybody you come into contact with. Hopefully I got some of that from him in terms of the way I try to deal with the guys… I miss my dad. He loved being here. Obviously, he was following Coach Wooden, which was a pretty hard guy to follow. I’ve got great memories being a ball boy here and seeing a lot of good players.
That said the players heard an inspiring speech from the link to the last championship, Tyus Edney. First, Bartow explains:
I thought Tyus (Edney) gave a really emotional talk—I guess that was on Monday—just what it means to put the UCLA uniform on. The way you’ve got to look, the way you’ve got to act, the way you’ve got to play. Talked about the history here and the tradition here and what it means to be a basketball player at UCLA. And he got emotional. Tyus was pretty emotional as he spoke to the team. I certainly think that had an effect on them.
And then David Singleton on Tyus’ speech:
It meant a lot to me. I was really touched. Tyus—he knows the guards. He teaches me new things. When I heard that speech, we came together and said we need to play our heart out. We need to play for us, for our fans, and, mostly, for our coaches. We represent UCLA. We represent the present and the alumni.
That brings us back to the game. What was different about Bartow? I think there were three things different. The first was the use of Singleton. As David Woods of Bruin Report Online writes:
Singleton was the revelation, and in retrospect it’s not surprising that the good-effort, good-decision-making guard immediately flourished when those things were explicitly encouraged rather than implicitly discouraged. He played 19 very efficient minutes, scoring 13 points and making great decisions with the basketball. He’s the clear best shooter on the team from distance, and needs even more opportunities.
The second thing was the starting lineup with Chris Smith, who played 30 minutes, starting. Bartow explained:
I’m a fan of his. I like him a lot. I think he’s a hard matchup and he’s a versatile guy. He’s really athletic. I’ll be really surprised if one day he’s not playing in the NBA. He’s got that NBA body, length, skill. He’s just got to get more consistent. He ended up tonight with seven points, eight rebounds, three assists. He’s just the kind of a guy, jack of all trades that can do a lot of things. He can play the wing, he can play inside, he’s fast, he can guard, he can rebound, he can shoot… He’s a guy that I like a lot and I think he’s a hard matchup.
The third item was another move by Coach Bartow that I think was overlooked by some commentators and BRO’s Woods mentions it briefly:
UCLA played with significantly more joy and effort in the second half, spurred by an actually aggressive press defense, not the useless delay tactic that Alford employed so often. UCLA trapped in the corners, created turnovers, and turned what was headed toward a ho-hum, 10-point win into a rout.
This was not Steve Alford’s Bruins. How good is it? We’ll have to wait and see as Stanford is a bad team, but the leading scorer and rebounder last night Moses Brown gets the last word on Coach Bartow:
I love Coach Bartow’s energy. In practice, he does a lot to motivate us. When Coach was around, we just saw how much energy and how much effort he put into us and making us a better team. Now that he’s the head coach, all of that is starting to manifest. As you could see on the court, we did a good job today. We had more energy, just ran up and down, having a good time. We came together as a family. He emphasized us just looking like a team, valuing each other, sharing the ball, playing defense, and playing hard.