Greg Hansen: Court reporter recalls

One final look back at 33 years sitting on Pac-10 press row
2011-03-09T00:00:00Z 2014-03-19T16:21:31Z Greg Hansen: Court reporter recallsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 09, 2011 12:00 am  • 

This is the type of mental debris you lug while chronicling 33 years of Pac-10 basketball: You remember Ralph Miller smoking during practice, crushing his unfiltered cigarette on the Beavers' logo at Gill Coliseum.

You remember Lute Olson, stompin' mad, snatching the press credential from the chest of an Oregon Daily Emerald student reporter, demanding to know, "Who are you?"

And you remember trying to pick up the check - expense account, right? - after a lunch with USC coach George Raveling and his unannounced guest, Elgin Baylor, and having Baylor hand you a $100 bill to cover his $6 sandwich.

You remember battling deadline when the No. 2 Oregon State Beavers needed to score just 17 points to beat Stanford coach Dick DiBiaso's hold-the-ball tactics, 18-16, in a bizarre 1980 game at Maples Pavilion.

And you remember being seriously past deadline when Arizona rallied in double overtime to win at Washington State 114-111 in 1995. (One game had 34 points, the other 225. Is this a great league or what?)

At the Spokane airport early the next morning, a rival reporter chuckled that she "beat the Star" because the game ended well past midnight in Tucson.

"They held the presses," my old colleague, Jon Wilner, told her. "We both got our full stories into the paper, quotes and all."

Such has been the importance of Pac-10 basketball in this little corner of the world.

It can stop the presses.

By my count, I have covered 456 Pac-10 games across those 33 seasons. I've been to Pauley Pavilion 24 times, and to my favorite arena, sob, the dearly departed Mac Court, 32 times, the first 11 while toiling for an Oregon newspaper.

As the Pac-10 grows to 12 teams next year, spoiling the league's perfect home-and-road symmetry, I look back at what I refer to as Lute's League, because he owned it. It has been a not-so-cozy configuration that stretched from Pullman, Wash., (ASU coach Bill Frieder in 1990 referred to Pullman as "a dump") to the ghastly Los Angeles Sports Arena, where, after watching an 1980 Oregon-USC game with UCLA assistant coach Jim Harrick, a friend since my college days, he warned that taking an underground passage to a nearby watering hole would improve my chances of "being dead."

Instead, I have lived through 456 games of history. Such as:

Three best games

1. UCLA 89, Arizona 87, January 1992. The No. 2 Bruins broke No. 6 Arizona's 71-game McKale Center winning streak on a dagger-to-the-heart jumper by Darrick Martin. Tears fell for weeks.

2. ASU 87, Oregon State 67, March 1981. The No. 1 Beavers were 26-0 on Senior Day but, losing so badly to the No. 5 Sun Devils, Miller, a Hall of Fame coach, grabbed the PA microphone and admonished Beavers fans for booing the referees.

3. Arizona 76, Stanford 75, March 2001. After beating the No. 1 Cardinal on the road, the No. 8 Wildcats celebrated with their fans, who rushed the court for the first time since 1986.

Five best Pac-10 players (four-year category)

1. Sean Elliott, Arizona. The only two-time Pac-10 Player of the Year.

2. Gary Payton, Oregon State. Since he left in 1990, the Beavers have had one winning season.

3. Steve Johnson, Oregon State. The best big man of the Pac-10 era; Johnson shot .746 and .710 from the field in his final two seasons as the Beavers went 33-3 in the Pac-10.

4. Adam Keefe, Stanford. The redheaded center led the Pac-10 in rebounding three times and scored 2,336 points, fourth-best in Pac-10 history.

5. Don MacLean, UCLA. He broke Elliott's league scoring record with 2,608 points.

Three biggest controversies

1. Point shaving. ASU guard Stevin "Hedake" Smith was convicted in a point-shaving controversy in 1993-94, which ultimately cost coach Bill Frieder his job.

2. Bad expense account. UCLA coach Jim Harrick, who had coached the Bruins to the 1995 national title, was fired in 1996 for allegedly lying about an expense account.

3. Recruiting violation. Cal coach Todd Bozeman was fired in 1996 after he admitted paying $30,000 to the parents of Golden Bears recruit Jelani Gardner.

Three best teams

1. Arizona, 1988. The Wildcats won a league-record 35 games, establishing a Pac-10 record with a 20.9 scoring differential over conference opponents.

2. Oregon State, 1981. Ranked No. 1 for most of the year and 26-1 in the regular season, the defense-first Beavers were known as the "Orange Express."

3. UCLA, 1995. The 32-1 Bruins were so good they beat Duke 100-77 and finished the season with 26 consecutive victories including back-to-back double-figure victories in the Final Four.

Three worst teams

1. Arizona, 1983. The Wildcats were 1-17 in the Pac-10 and 4-24 overall, beating only Florida International, NAU, San Diego State and an eighth-place Stanford team.

2. Oregon State, 2008. The Beavers were the only team to go winless (0-18) in conference play, finishing 6-25 overall. Closest game: five points.

3. Washington State. Take your pick; the Cougars finished 1-17 three times.

Two most underrated players

1. Aaron Brooks, Oregon. The 5-foot-10-inch point guard was somehow edged for Pac-10 Player of the Year by UCLA's Arron Affalo, who couldn't carry Brooks' Nike swoosh.

2. Lester Conner, Oregon State. Not sure there has been a more disruptive defensive player in league history. He was the 1982 Player of the Year based not on stats, but on presence.

Two most overrated players

1. Jason Kapono, UCLA. Somehow, he joined Stanford's Todd Lichti as the only four-time first-team All-Pac-10 player. That would be like Matty Alou playing in more All-Star Games than Willie Mays.

2. Brian Williams, Arizona. On pure talent, he could have been as good as any player of the 33 years. When he was "into it," he was fearsome. When he wasn't into it, he went scoreless in Arizona's 1990 NCAA exit to Alabama.

Hard to believe

Only three teams had cumulative winning conference records over 33 years. The worst: Wazzu at 226-368, a mere 184 games behind the Bruins.

1. UCLA 410-184.

2. Arizona 398-196.

3. Stanford 320-274.

Two bizarre reasons for firing a coach

1. Cal's Lou Campanelli was fired in midseason, 1992-93, for what athletic director Bob Bockrath termed "excessive profanity" with his players.

2. UCLA's Walt Hazzard was canned after being roundly booed by UA fans at the 1988 Pac-10 tournament at McKale Center. Bruins chancellor Charles Young said a UCLA coach should not be viewed in such a negative way.

Three most remarkable statistical accomplishments

1. Deep threat. Arizona's Steve Kerr shot .573 from three-point distance in 1987-88. He made 114 of 199 attempts. How good was that? No other player with more than 100 attempts has finished any better than .525.

2. Award maven. OSU's Gary Payton was selected Pac-10 Player of the Week nine times. No one else won more than seven.

3. Pink slips. Thirty-three coaches (not counting interims) were fired. One per year, on average. ASU fired (or asked to leave) the most (five): Frieder, Ned Wulk, Rob Evans, Steve Patterson and Bob Weinhauer.

One memory to take to Pac-10 heaven

Sean Elliott arrived at McKale Center on Feb. 18, 1989, with a newly shaved head. Elliott said he wanted to do something special for the occasion. It would be the day he broke Lew Alcindor's Pac-10 career scoring record.

Arizona beat the Bruins 102-64. Who beats UCLA 102-64?

"I'm not sure there'll be a player in this league as good as Elliott for a long, long time," UCLA's Harrick told me afterward, walking up the ramp from McKale Center to an awaiting bus. "You write that down. He's as good as they come."

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