March 22, 2000
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Eleven NCAA championships, 36 tournament appearances, including 12 consecutive bids. Say one thing about UCLA: the Bruins have some history.
The sixth-seeded Bruins (21-11) have a chance to add to the school's basketball glory. They might just be playing better than anyone in the Midwest heading into Thursday night's regional doubleheader at The Palace.
But they first have to get past the No. 2 seed, Iowa State (31-4), a school looking to make a little history of its own.
Top-seeded Michigan State (28-7) and Syracuse (26-5) meet in the first game.
"I think it's a great point," Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy said before Wednesday's practice session. "We don't have the great history that the other three teams do. They're in the upper echelon, and we're right below it."
The Cyclones have plenty of tradition. After all, Johnny Orr once was the coach.
"But we don't have the history," said Eustachy, the Big 12 coach of the year. "It's not intimidating. It's just an honor. It took those other schools years to get there. I hope before I'm through we'll have some history."
A win over UCLA would be a giant step in that direction.
Still, all that history can sometimes be a tremendous burden. Things were pretty rough around the UCLA campus before the Bruins got some injured players back and got on their current streak. They were being booed in their own gym.
"People were pretty hard on us," forward Sean Farnham said. "At UCLA, you're expected to win games. When we weren't doing that, we didn't have too many friends."
UCLA coach Steve Lavin thinks maybe that made the Bruins tougher.
"The pressure has always been there at UCLA," Lavin said. "It's the same way with football at USC. It's a lot like the comics, a good Dick Tracy or Peanuts. You have to learn to laugh at yourself. You can't let the insanity get to you."
The Bruins, who were 13-11 and apparently going nowhere at midseason, have been on a roll ever since. Their 105-70 romp over Maryland in Minneapolis made the Bruins 21-11 when they arrived at The Palace.
"Iowa State has the best player in Marcus Fizer, but UCLA has maybe the greatest assembly of talent," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Eustachy agreed completely.
"Really, they are the hot team," Eustachy said. "Who's hotter? We're going to have to play our best game if they get going like that."
The Bruins had five players in double figures in the blowout over Maryland. Earl Watson led the way with 17 points, a school-record 16 assists and zero turnovers in 26 minutes.
Still, the Cyclones feel they can play with anyone. Maybe it's because they play with such attitude.
"We don't change our game for nobody," Fizer said. "We wouldn't change for the Los Angeles Lakers. We want to set the tempo. We want people to play our game."
Fizer, a 6-foot-8 All-American, was the Big 12 player of the year. It is largely because of him that the Cyclones are in the round of 16 for the third time in school history.
Lavin compares Fizer to a young Charles Barkley.
"Fizer is as dominant as any player we've seen," Lavin said. "We played (Robert) 'Tractor' Traylor when he was at Michigan. But Fizer is like Barkley. He can back away from the basket and beat you so many ways. We need to cut down his catches so he doesn't have a career night."
By HARRY ATKINS
AP Sports Writer