L.A.'S FAVORITE SONS SHINE IN CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE.
PHILADELPHIA - Fans of USC and UCLA can put aside their rivalry for a few hours today just as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson did in 1776 when signing the Declaration of Independence in this City of Brotherly Love.
When the third round of the NCAA Tournament commences at First Union Center, not far from Independence Hall, UCLA fans have good reason to root for the USC men's basketball team to upset Kentucky and USC fans to cheer for the Bruins to upset Duke.
That would set the stage for a showdown Saturday between the Bruins and Trojans for a berth in the Final Four.
They each need the other to win tonight to turn L.A. history into full- blown hysteria.
And, yet, no matter which two teams in the East Regional semifinals survive and advance, it says here L.A. is the big winner.
For a few fabulous days L.A. hasn't been sweating the rolling blackouts; the city is running just fine on the electricity generated by the possibility that the two universities that are its pride and joy will meet in Philadelphia to decide which team goes to Minneapolis next week.
It's as if the city underwent a major nip-and-tuck job. The sprawling metropolis has never looked more compact, more quaint. Why, L.A. could be confused with Durham, N.C., right now, it's so town-proud and hoops-happy.
Michael Holton, who played in the NCAA championship game as a UCLA freshman and is in Philadelphia as a Bruins assistant coach, has never seen NCAA Tournament fever grip L.A. like this.
Some people have grown so delirious, they're paying the equivalent of a month's rent to be a part of tonight's proceedings.
``A lot of people are calling me from L.A.,'' Holton said Wednesday, after the UCLA players held a public practice at First Union Center. ``They want to get on a plane at the last minute because USC and UCLA are here. You can get a sense that people are attuned to the historic nature of what's occurring. I really think USC and UCLA both advancing here has brought a sense of pride to the city of Los Angeles.''
The Bruins were expected to come this far. This is their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in Steve Lavin's five years as the head coach.
UCLA basketball is like a blue chip stock; because the school has performed so well in the past, those who have the most invested in it anticipate a sizable return every year and tend to panic at the first sign of a downturn.
The Trojans, on the other hand, are like an Internet startup that hit the IPO jackpot. Victories over Oklahoma State and Boston College catapulted the University of Southern California into the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the very first time.
To a man, the Trojans feel gratified to the point of giddiness. On Wednesday, USC officials voluntarily kept their locker room open to reporters for 15 minutes longer than they were required to so the players could bask in the extra attention.
A week ago, any little bit of attention would have seemed like a lot. USC basketball, you see, long has played Benjamin Rush to UCLA's Benjamin Franklin.
Rush was a physician who rallied support for American independence from England but was overshadowed by his fellow Founding Father, Franklin.
Since shortly after a coach by the name of John Wooden arrived in Westwood, the Trojans have been the college basketball equivalent of the cosmic riddle: If a basketball team plays but nobody pays attention, do the results matter?
USC forward Jarvis Turner is a fifth-year senior, which means he has been stung by more than his share of insults and indignities. His sophomore year, in 1997-98, the Trojans finished 9-17 and Turner can still remember clear as a nightmare a UCLA player, J.R. Henderson, blithely dismissing the Bruins' game against the Trojans by saying, ``They're just USC.''
``That kind of hurt,'' Turner said and indeed, he winced at the memory.
Even more painful, Turner said, was having to acknowledge, ``at the time, he was right.''
The Trojans, who had won 70 men's NCAA championships before this year but conspicuously none in basketball, have the same mathematical chance of winning the NCAA Tournament as Kentucky, Duke and the University of California, Los Angeles, schools that count 20 NCAA men's basketball titles among them.
``That's what we've been fighting for, equality and justice,'' said Turner, who realized the long war may actually be near a cease-fire when he was touring Manhattan with some teammates Sunday, the day after USC's stunning upset of Boston College in Long Island.
The Trojans were walking down the street when they passed a man who was idly reading a New York Times sports section. The man glanced up just in time to see the blur of USC jerseys go by.
He looked down at the photo on the page in his hands, looked back up at the USC players and gave chase. When he caught up to them, he waved the newspaper photograph in the air and said, ``Where's this kid right here? I want to meet him.''
Turner sheepishly stepped forward and shook the man's hand. They exchanged a few words, then went their separate ways.
If Turner didn't have his teammates as his witnesses, he'd swear he dreamed the whole scene up.
``It was crazy,'' Turner said, shaking his head, his eyes glowing like moonbeams. ``Just the exposure that comes from being in the Sweet Sixteen is amazing.''
Tell L.A. about it. To have two teams among the final 16, well, the city is positively aglow. No question we are seeing L.A. in its best light.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2001|
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