March 7, 2003
By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES - UCLA's hopes of redeeming its worst season in 55 years by making the Pac-10 tournament now rest on one game.
Ray Young scored a career-high 30 points and UCLA defeated Washington State 86-71 Thursday night to improve its chances of finishing higher than eighth in the conference.
"We've had such a bad year," Young said. "I want to go out a winner when I leave here."
If the Bruins (8-18, 5-12 Pac-10) stay out of the eighth spot, they could avoid playing No. 1 Arizona in the first round of the conference tournament next week.
Of course, UCLA still must beat Washington on Saturday to guarantee a berth in the eight-team tournament. The Bruins, Washington and Southern California are in a three-way tie for eighth going into Saturday's final regular-season games.
"If we can just get in the tournament and especially if we enter the tournament on a two-game winning streak, then hopefully we can catch fire for three more games and be the first team ever to go into the NCAA tournament at 9-28 or whatever we are," said UCLA's Jason Kapono, who added 22 points.
Bruins coach Steve Lavin said he believes he will be dismissed at the end of the season. The team is 4-10 at Pauley Pavilion, its most losses ever at home in one season.
"I know that I'm out of the running for Pac-10 and national coach of the year awards, but anything other that, obviously the future is kind of unknown," Lavin said. "But I've enjoyed every step of the way through these 12 years both as an assistant and head coach, and as long as it lasts, I'm just going to kind of be grateful and enjoy it. When it comes to an end, I'm going to be grateful and enjoy it."
Patrick Sandle, Lavin's No. 3 assistant, was equally sanguine about the future.
"If we get fired, we get fired," he said. "I may have to get a job somewhere else, but I'm going to keep coaching."
The news is equally as bad for the Cougars (7-19, 2-15), who extended their streak of never winning against the Bruins in Los Angeles, where they are 0-46. They've lost 21 consecutive games to the Bruins and are 0-11 on the road this season.
Citing unidentified sources, ESPN.com reported Thursday that Washington State coach Paul Graham will be officially fired Monday after being told by athletic director Jim Sterk of his dismissal earlier this week.
However, the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash., reported Thursday that Graham will be retained for the fifth and final year of his contract.
"The AD said we'll talk when we get back and I don't worry about things I can't control," Graham said. "I feel good. I go to work every day and let the chips fall as they may."
Chris Schlatter came off the bench to lead the Cougars with a career-high 19 points. He scored 10 straight early in the second half to draw Washington State within five. Randy Green also had 19 points for the Cougars, who got no closer the rest of the way. They were outrebounded 49-28.
"We got killed on rebounds and didn't get the stops at the end that we needed," said Schlatter, adding that the team isn't focused on Graham's future.
"We just come out and play hard every game. If we thought about it, it would affect our game. We can't let those things get in the way."
Ahead 57-52, UCLA outscored Washington State 21-7 for a 78-59 lead with 1:53 remaining.
Kapono, who scored a career-high 44 points against the Cougars in January, scored 16 points in the second half. He had nine in a row, including back-to-back 3-pointers, during UCLA's decisive run.
"It was all Ray actually," Kapono said. "He padded his stats the last 45 seconds, but we are definitely not mad at him."
The Bruins took a 40-25 lead with an 11-0 run late in the first half before the Cougars scored the final five points to trail 40-30 at the break.
Entire sections of the upper balcony at Pauley were nearly empty at a game attended by 6,619. The Bruins have averaged 8,453 at home this season, which is among the lowest ever.