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Bruin Draw: It’s A Bunch Of Bullwhip

Mon., March 13, 1995

Dear Bobby:

Leave the bullwhip home.

Please. I’m begging you. For once in your life, try to be nice. I know it’s hard. I know it’s against your nature, in fact. But try.

Bobby, old pal, I don’t know if Jim Harrick’s blood ran cold as he sat there watching the announcement of the NCAA basketball tournament pairings Sunday, but mine certainly did.

For this, Harrick’s UCLA team worked its way up to No.1 in the country? For this, it blew out every team that dared to step on the same court with it as the season was winding down? For this, it earned the No.1 seed in its home region?

All so it could have Bobby Knight lurking in the weeds waiting for it? What evil minds those people on the tournament committee have. What a twisted sense of humor.

Hmm, you could almost see them saying to each other: What can we do to have a little fun with UCLA? After we let it pick the wings off those darling little butterflies from Florida International to start the tournament, that is? Anybody know where Florida International IS, by the way?

I know. How about if we - heh, heh - stick the Bruins in the same subregional with - oh, this is rich - with Indiana. That ought to be good for some laughs. Whose turn is it to buy the next round?

Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. Remember the last time your team played the Bruins in the NCAAs? I don’t know how you could forget, actually. It was wild, it was emotional, it was controversial. The game was something to see, too.

Listen, it’s been three years now, so you can tell us. Where did those players get that bullwhip, anyway? I know it was their idea of a joke about what a stern taskmaster you are, but by the time you were done the Albuquerque branch of the NAACP was calling you a horse’s behind and you were getting your back up and refusing to apologize. Oh, it was a mess. A typical Bobby Knight mess.

You loved every minute of it, of course. Back in your tournament command post, in fact, I’ll bet you were saying you had planned the whole thing to make yourself the center of attention and take the heat off your players. Which, of course, you did.

But what Jim Harrick remembers about Albuquerque is less the bullwhip than the horsewhipping your team gave his in the regional final. In many ways, in fact, it was the real start of his troubles at UCLA, the beginning of the perception his teams can’t win important games.

UCLA was good that season. Very good. It had a record of 28-4 going into that game, had won the Pac-10 title, had opened the season with an 87-72 win over (ahem) Indiana and had (cough) earned the No.1 seed in the West.

With Don MacLean and Tracy Murray each averaging more than 21 points and seven rebounds a game, there was no reason to think going to the Final Four wasn’t a distinct possibility. Nor was this perception diminished when the Bruins won their third tournament game over an excellent New Mexico State team.

And then Indiana murdered them.

Bobby, dear friend, I have to hand it to you. You have the ego of a South American general and the social graces of a mountain lion, but you can really coach.

To this day, I don’t know how you kept the ball out of Murray’s hands. I don’t know how you held MacLean to two field goals while the outcome of the game was still unsettled. I don’t know how you made UCLA look so timid and tired and out of sorts. I do know that the final score was 106-79 and that it could have been worse.

Now this year’s Indiana team is not as good as that one. It took a 27-6 record to the Final Four three years ago and is only 19-11 this season. It needed to win its last game of the regular season to ensure it would even make the tournament this year.

But I can’t help noticing what happened in that last game Sunday. Indiana 110, Iowa 79 is what happened. Nobody ever brought a team to the peak of its capabilities as the tournament was starting the way you do, and don’t think Harrick doesn’t know that.

So start drawing up the game plan, Bobby. Beat Missouri in your tournament opener and the Bruins will be waiting to see what you’ve got up your sleeve this time. Please, please, please, don’t make it a bullwhip.

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