March 8, 2003
By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES - UCLA gave itself the opportunity it so desperately wanted.
Dijon Thompson scored a career-high 26 points and the Bruins defeated Washington 83-72 to earn the last berth in the Pac-10 tournament Saturday night, assuring that coach Steve Lavin will keep his job for at least another week.
At the final buzzer, students swarmed the court as if the Bruins (9-18) had won another national championship instead of merely extending their worst season in 55 years.
They earned the eighth seed in next week's tournament. But it could be over Thursday, when UCLA will play No. 1 Arizona in the first round at Staples Center. The Bruins lost twice to the Wildcats by a combined 71 points during the regular season.
"It's going to be a tough task, but we have to be up for the challenge," said senior Jason Kapono, who will finish his career as the first player to lead UCLA in scoring four consecutive years. "We're just fortunate, we're blessed and glad we're in the tournament."
Lavin expects to be fired when the season ends. He is 144-77 since being promoted from assistant to head coach seven years ago. Students chanted his name before the game.
"We won two games this weekend and that's a positive step in the right direction. Obviously, all this comes under the guarded optimism umbrella. We know we got a long way to go," Lavin said. "Now we have an opportunity. Whether you're 30-0 or you're 0-30, everyone is given 40 minutes in a single-elimination game format. That's all we can really ask for."
At 6-12, UCLA finished in a three-way tie for sixth in the conference with Oregon State and Southern California. However, the Bruins ended up with the No. 8 seed because they split with Oregon State and were swept by the crosstown rival Trojans.
Kapono and fellow senior Ray Young each had 20 points in their final home game. The rest of the Bruins combined for just six points in the second half.
"We've been playing real good basketball," Young said after UCLA won its second game in a row for the first time since early January. "We definitely need to transfer that effort to a top team in the nation as Arizona is. We know how good we are, how good we can play."
The Huskies (10-17, 5-13) could have made the tournament with a victory. Instead, they lost their 17th straight at Pauley Pavilion, where they haven't won since 1987.
Coached by former UCLA assistant Lorenzo Romar, Washington finished 2-10 on the road, including a 1-8 mark in conference play.
"I felt sorry for the team. They worked much too hard during the season for it to end like this," Romar said. "Their shooters just got away from us even though we played the same defense as the first half."
"Coach told us to contain and keep the lead in the second half, but their seniors got hot ... and we couldn't contain them," Robinson said.
The Bruins were clinging to a three-point lead when T.J. Cummings missed two free throws with 2:17 remaining. Young tipped in the second miss to keep the Bruins ahead 75-70.
Young made two free throws and Thompson hit a basket as UCLA led 79-70.
After being booed in the first half when they trailed by 14 points, the Bruins dominated much of the final 20 minutes. They opened with a 39-16 run, including six straight points by Kapono, to take a 65-52 lead with 6:51 remaining. The spurt included 14 unanswered points, including consecutive 3-pointers by Thompson and Kapono.
Thompson's 3-pointer gave UCLA its first lead of the game with 11:19 remaining. The Bruins shot 74 percent in the second half.