Frank Stranzl

As I left the Daily office at 6:25 p.m., I knew tip-off was out of sight. But I trudged across sopping wet terrain, through a misty drizzle and hustled to my car.

I frantically turned onto Grand Avenue then to Slack Street and finally onto Longview Lane when I heard a most startling sound.

“HOOOOOONK.” I looked over my left shoulder, then my right and realized where the sound had come from: the train tracks. Damn it! Now I’m going to be way past tardy for the game of all games: The NCAA Tournament Championship.

As I peaked around the corner, of course looking both ways, onto Foothill, I saw the end of the train whoosh past and the flashing red lights on the railroad crossing barrier lifted ” a clear sign from God that I was destined to watch as much of the UCLA-Florida national championship game as possible.

When I finally arrived at home, my roommates greeted me from upstairs while I hurried to the television – and what did I find? It was a video game show on Spike TV or some other insignificant channel. Dismayed, I turned on the game and saw UCLA trailing 17-11 with 12:38 to go in the first half.

The Bruins looked out of synch and couldn’t hit a jump shot, let alone score. Joakim Noah, the 6-foot-11-inch NBA prospect/Frenchman/Cameroon native was dominating. Five blocked shots in the first half? Madness, pure madness, April madness. (The tournament nickname is March Madness, yet the championship is played in April ” always a curious detail to me).

Awful transition basketball, poor bench play and terrible shot selection dug the Bruins into a deep hole. It was like watching the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter with the Bruin guards portraying Derek Fisher, the shoot-your-team-out-of-the-game master.

It was an ugly half for UCLA aficionados. And for the record, I’m not a huge fan of the Bruins. I am, however, a firm believer of the “East Coast Bias” conspiracy theory and found myself rooting for the Pacific-10 Conference representative by its geographical association.

With halftime nearing, I glanced at my watch and gasped, “A’s game!”

No sooner had I changed the channel to ESPN had I gasped again. “Figure skating?” I yelled, and on went ESPN2. As much as I love college basketball and as important as the national championship game is, I’m a diehard A’s fan and got great satisfaction from watching the first inning. Former A’s Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, a sellout in the eyes of many Oakland followers, both struck out.

Back to the national championship, UCLA still trailing and halftime closing in. Darren Collison, UCLA’s freshman star point guard in the making, took a shot that epitomized the Bruins’ half. He took the ball at the top of the key, tried to shake his defender with a series of cross-over dribbles and fancy ball handling, then pulled up for a three-point shot with the defender in his shorts. The ball arcared towards the rim and drew iron. There was plenty of time remaining on the shot clock to drive or dish the ball, but he settled for a tough long range shot.

Fittingly, the Gators led 36-25 at halftime.

Back to the A’s game and a scoreless tie in the second inning. It wouldn’t be scoreless for long. The next time I looked, the typical A’s-Yankees score showed New York ahead 7-1 with Kirk Saarloos in to relieve Barry Zito. I held the tears back and decided to focus on the national championship telecast.

The second half didn’t start well for the Bruins. But that didn’t stop the laughter as Alfred Aboya dunked over Noah on an out-of-bounds play midway through the second half. Aboya cut into the key and soared over the nearly seven-foot Frenchman. I instantly thought back to Vince Carter’s incredible fast break slam over the French national team’s 7-foot-2-inch center, Frederic Weis. What’s up with the land of wine and cheese getting dunked on for highlight reel extravaganzas?

Noah, of course, had the last laugh as the Gators reigned victorious 73-57.

It wasn’t the best display of UCLA basketball, shots clanking every which way but hardly ever in while the Swiss added even more international flavor to the game ” as in the Bruins played a Swiss cheese defense, filled with holes.

As the final buzzer sounded, I again rushed to my car and sped to campus to finish up at the office, hoping the train wouldn’t halt my journey this time through.

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