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Greg Hansen: Arizona Wildcats’ Spirit of ’79 lives on with USC, UCLA arriving

To encourage customer traffic and circulate his restaurant s name in the community, Spaghetti Company owner Mike Pulos offered a free spaghetti dinner to all 14,586 McKale Center fans if the Wildcats could complete a historic 1979 sweep of UCLA and USC. To be safe, Pulos ordered 2,000 cases of pasta and scheduled double-shifts for his waiters. In January 1979, that was about $50,000 of giveaway spaghetti.

It was our first year in the Pac-10, and it was really big to have UCLA and USC on our court, remembers 1980 Arizona all-conference guard Joe Nehls. I think everybody in town ate free spaghetti. Only now, 38 years later, with the Trojans and Bruins a cumulative 45-9, is there a USC/UCLA weekend as appealing. In the Lute Olson years, USC and UCLA never arrived at McKale with more than 36 wins.

Rarely have the Trojans and the Bruins been good simultaneously, but in 1979 they were picked to finish 1-2 in the newly expanded Pac-10. UCLA was ranked No. 3 when it arrived in Tucson; the Trojans were ranked as high as No. 11 in the AP poll, and by the time they suited up at McKale, they had already played the nation s most difficult schedule, enduring road games at Duke, Maryland and Texas . The Bruins came first, a Thursday night game attended by 14,606. Like many other teams of the era, Arizona had not beaten mighty UCLA since 1923. No one could have expected a sweep, or even a split. The Wildcats were bludgeoned 116-80 at Oregon State five days earlier.

We had been embarrassed, says Nehls, now a Tucson real estate broker. They probably came in thinking they could walk all over us.

On the biggest platform in McKale history, Arizona beat UCLA 70-69 when reserve guard John Smith made a single free throw with six seconds remaining. He was engulfed by hundreds of celebrating fans who not only attempted to cut down the nets, but carried Smith and several of his teammates off the court. When coach Fred Snowden arrived at work the next morning, his first of dozens of congratulatory phone calls was from U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, a 1959 UA grad.

It s the biggest win of my career, said Snowden, who earlier stunned No. 3 UNLV in the 1976 Sweet 16. I ve never seen it like this here. It was the first time I d ever seen the crowd come onto the court and lift the players up on their shoulders. Then came the promise of free spaghetti dinners if Arizona could complete the sweep on a Monday night against USC.

Another sellout crowd squeezed into the arena, at which Arizona had gone 82-7 since McKale opened in 1973. But most of those victories were against regional opponents from the Western Athletic Conference. It was the Joe Nehls Show. The shooting guard from the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, Illinois, scored 31 points, giving him 50 for the weekend. Arizona won 74-72, with two Nehls free throws providing the differential. This time the crowd rushed the court with even more revelry. A small security force was overwhelmed; some fans got inside the UA locker room, embraced by Snowden and the players.

I don t think I ve ever seen that in back-to-back games anywhere, says Nehls, who is a UA season ticket-holder. We didn t get to the postseason, not even the NIT, but that weekend was a highlight that can never be taken away from you. It was as loud as I can ever remember it at McKale.

Los Angeles Times basketball writer Mal Florence described his weekend in Tucson this way: I thought Oregon was bad, but this is the new Pit. How did it happen? How did an Arizona team that finished 16-11 and tied for fourth in the Pac-10, sweep NCAA-bound UCLA and USC teams? The Wildcats shot a combined 57 percent for the weekend. The future NBA players from Los Angeles UCLA s Kiki Vandeweghe, David Greenwood and Brad Holland and USC s Cliff Robinson couldn t overcome what has grown to be the West Coast s leading game-day environment.

The USC-UCLA weekend has never been able to match the appeal and anticipation of the 1979 games. Over the last 30 LA weekends, Arizona is 50-10 against the Trojans and Bruins with 22 sweeps. A few years ago, Nehls got a call from Arizona s 1979 point guard, Russell Brown, who scored a season-high 18 in the upset over UCLA. He asked if Nehls had video of either of the games, or an old tape.

Unfortunately, no, says Nehls. But I d love to get my hands on one. The old Spaghetti Company restaurant on South Alvernon Way closed in 1982. The spirit of 79 lives on.

TideSports.com – ALABAMA NOTEBOOK: Tide breaks losing streak …

Alabama women s basketball is back in the win column. UA broke its five-game losing streak by piecing together one of its best all-around performances of the season against Tennessee, defeating the Lady Vols for the second-straight time, and the fourth time in program history. Ball security was a huge reason Alabama was successful. Crimson Tide coach Kristy Curry has stressed that limiting turnovers to under 13 per game is crucial in conference play. On Thursday, she was spot-on. Alabama turned the ball over just 10 times against Tennessee, and no player had more than two turnovers for the game. Shelton State transfer Coco Knight had her best game at Alabama, while leading the way to the upset win. The junior guard used 25 minutes to score 16 points, grab eight rebounds and dish three assists. Knight s standout performance set career-highs in minutes, points, assists and rebounds.

The 5-foot-7 Knight trailed only juniors Hannah Cook and Ashley Williams in rebounds against the Lady Vols, and despite her small stature she was able to generate second-chance points by grabbing four rebounds on the offensive end.

The coaches kept telling us to go to the (glass), and that s what I did, Alabama guard Knight said. As a team we had 22 (offensive rebounds), and I think that s the highest we ve had in a while. Teams that finish in the top 10 of the Southeastern Conference standings will get a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament that begins March, 1. Alabama starts the final week of the regular season ranked eleventh in the conference with three games left to play.

Drew Hill

New season marks new careers

The start of the Greg Goff era for the University of Alabama baseball team (2-1) was also the start of several new players careers. Nine players made their UA debut over the weekend, including three of the five relievers used in Alabama s series win over Presbyterian. Freshman Sonny Potter pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Saturday and redshirt freshman Davis Vainer needed just seven pitches to work through the ninth inning on Sunday. Junior college transfer Garrett Suchey pitched three innings on Sunday, giving up two runs.

There will likely be more newcomers on against Southern Miss. The game, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday, has been moved to 6 p.m. on Wednesday due to threat of rain.

I definitely think you ll see some guys throw that haven t thrown yet, head coach Greg Goff said. We re still trying to decide who we re going to lock in and throw and our bullpen. When you have a bunch of new guys, in a first year, I ve never seen these guys play a game. For me, we ll kind of get our feet wet as we go. Sophomore righty Brock Love is expected to pitch at some point Wednesday, but some freshmen are still awaiting their turn. Freshman lefthander Garret Rukes hasn t pitched yet, nor has righty Deacon Medders.

Ben Jones

Transfer sees more playing time

In late January, there was reason to wonder if Ar’Mond Davis was going to have a role for the University of Alabama men’s basketball this season. Davis, a junior college transfer from Tacoma, Washington about as far as one can get from Tuscaloosa and still remain on the continental United States was far down the Alabama bench. He played just two two minutes against Georgia and didn’t play at all in a home win against Mississippi State. Then improvement met opportunity. Davis started to see a slight increase in playing time. Then, with the Crimson Tide in foul trouble and fighting to hang on in a four-overtime win at South Carolina, Davis came off the bench to play 38 minutes and score a career-high 19 points. Last Saturday, he added a 16-point performance against LSU.

Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson said it was part of a season-long maturation for Davis that was not unusual for a junior college transfer.

“I think sometimes when a junior college kid enrolls at a Division I school, especially in a Power Five conference, the immediate thinking is that he really is a junior,” Johnson said after the Crimson Tide victory over LSU. “I disagree with that.

“With some juco kids, it takes a while to understand the entire process — school life at a Power Five (college), the way we travel, the way we practice. Especially when you’re playing for me, that’s not an easy thing to do.

“So there were a lot of growing pains for a long time. But I would say that about three weeks ago, we started to see some progress in the way he practiced, in the maturity level, and we started to get a little more confidence to play him a little more in games.”

Johnson said he was still advising Davis on various matters, on the court and on social media as well.

“In the last game (at Missouri), he didn’t feel well. So he tweeted about it. I told him that probably wasn’t a good thing to tweet about because you don’t to send people thinking that you’re making excuses about going 0-for-4 from the 3-point line.

“He’s a a kid I get after every day (at practice.) He and A.J. (Avery Johnson, Jr.) have some tough skin, because they get it a lot. But he’s responded.”

Cecil Hurt

Gymnastics improves score before postseason

It s time to shake things up in the college gymnastics world. Since most teams have now completed in at least six meets, rankings are determined by regional qualifying score (RQS). This takes a team s top six scores (three of which have to be from away meets), drops the highest and then averages out the remaining five. The University of Alabama is No. 4 with a 197.085 RQS. Oklahoma (197.89), LSU (197.655) and Florida (197.435) go down in order for the top three. Those are the only four programs in the nation with a 197-plus RQS.

Without the RQS, the Crimson Tide would have remained No. 6 with an overall average of 196.803. Scores dropped this week for Alabama included the Arkansas meet (195.325), the Elevate the Stage meet (195.85) and the Florida meet (197.825). All of this is meant to give a more consistent representation of each team s abilities before postseason.

Close call

On Monday, Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said Aja Sims is fine after being pulled from the lineup last Friday. While warming up, Sims fell off the uneven bars, took a hit to the head and underwent concussion protocol. The senior is tied for 10th on the floor exercise with a 9.895 RQS. She also has a season-high 9.975 and is the Crimson Tide s anchor performer.

Guest appearances

Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin will be at Coleman Coliseum on Friday for Alabama s meet against No. 12 Boise State. She was a member of the 2008 U.S. women s gymnastics team that took home the team silver from Bejing, China.

Terrin Waack

Alabama’s Coco Knight (13) moves toward the goal during the first half of a game against Tennessee at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa on Thursday. [Staff Photo/Erin Nelson]

ALABAMA NOTEBOOK: Tide breaks losing streak, back in win column

Alabama women s basketball is back in the win column. UA broke its five-game losing streak by piecing together one of its best all-around performances of the season against Tennessee, defeating the Lady Vols for the second-straight time, and the fourth time in program history. Ball security was a huge reason Alabama was successful. Crimson Tide coach Kristy Curry has stressed that limiting turnovers to under 13 per game is crucial in conference play. On Thursday, she was spot-on. Alabama turned the ball over just 10 times against Tennessee, and no player had more than two turnovers for the game. Shelton State transfer Coco Knight had her best game at Alabama, while leading the way to the upset win. The junior guard used 25 minutes to score 16 points, grab eight rebounds and dish three assists. Knight s standout performance set career-highs in minutes, points, assists and rebounds.

The 5-foot-7 Knight trailed only juniors Hannah Cook and Ashley Williams in rebounds against the Lady Vols, and despite her small stature she was able to generate second-chance points by grabbing four rebounds on the offensive end.

The coaches kept telling us to go to the (glass), and that s what I did, Alabama guard Knight said. As a team we had 22 (offensive rebounds), and I think that s the highest we ve had in a while. Teams that finish in the top 10 of the Southeastern Conference standings will get a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament that begins March, 1. Alabama starts the final week of the regular season ranked eleventh in the conference with three games left to play.

Drew Hill

New season marks new careers

The start of the Greg Goff era for the University of Alabama baseball team (2-1) was also the start of several new players careers. Nine players made their UA debut over the weekend, including three of the five relievers used in Alabama s series win over Presbyterian. Freshman Sonny Potter pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Saturday and redshirt freshman Davis Vainer needed just seven pitches to work through the ninth inning on Sunday. Junior college transfer Garrett Suchey pitched three innings on Sunday, giving up two runs.

There will likely be more newcomers on against Southern Miss. The game, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday, has been moved to 6 p.m. on Wednesday due to threat of rain.

I definitely think you ll see some guys throw that haven t thrown yet, head coach Greg Goff said. We re still trying to decide who we re going to lock in and throw and our bullpen. When you have a bunch of new guys, in a first year, I ve never seen these guys play a game. For me, we ll kind of get our feet wet as we go. Sophomore righty Brock Love is expected to pitch at some point Wednesday, but some freshmen are still awaiting their turn. Freshman lefthander Garret Rukes hasn t pitched yet, nor has righty Deacon Medders.

Ben Jones

Transfer sees more playing time

In late January, there was reason to wonder if Ar’Mond Davis was going to have a role for the University of Alabama men’s basketball this season. Davis, a junior college transfer from Tacoma, Washington about as far as one can get from Tuscaloosa and still remain on the continental United States was far down the Alabama bench. He played just two two minutes against Georgia and didn’t play at all in a home win against Mississippi State. Then improvement met opportunity. Davis started to see a slight increase in playing time. Then, with the Crimson Tide in foul trouble and fighting to hang on in a four-overtime win at South Carolina, Davis came off the bench to play 38 minutes and score a career-high 19 points. Last Saturday, he added a 16-point performance against LSU.

Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson said it was part of a season-long maturation for Davis that was not unusual for a junior college transfer.

“I think sometimes when a junior college kid enrolls at a Division I school, especially in a Power Five conference, the immediate thinking is that he really is a junior,” Johnson said after the Crimson Tide victory over LSU. “I disagree with that.

“With some juco kids, it takes a while to understand the entire process — school life at a Power Five (college), the way we travel, the way we practice. Especially when you’re playing for me, that’s not an easy thing to do.

“So there were a lot of growing pains for a long time. But I would say that about three weeks ago, we started to see some progress in the way he practiced, in the maturity level, and we started to get a little more confidence to play him a little more in games.”

Johnson said he was still advising Davis on various matters, on the court and on social media as well.

“In the last game (at Missouri), he didn’t feel well. So he tweeted about it. I told him that probably wasn’t a good thing to tweet about because you don’t to send people thinking that you’re making excuses about going 0-for-4 from the 3-point line.

“He’s a a kid I get after every day (at practice.) He and A.J. (Avery Johnson, Jr.) have some tough skin, because they get it a lot. But he’s responded.”

Cecil Hurt

Gymnastics improves score before postseason

It s time to shake things up in the college gymnastics world. Since most teams have now completed in at least six meets, rankings are determined by regional qualifying score (RQS). This takes a team s top six scores (three of which have to be from away meets), drops the highest and then averages out the remaining five. The University of Alabama is No. 4 with a 197.085 RQS. Oklahoma (197.89), LSU (197.655) and Florida (197.435) go down in order for the top three. Those are the only four programs in the nation with a 197-plus RQS.

Without the RQS, the Crimson Tide would have remained No. 6 with an overall average of 196.803. Scores dropped this week for Alabama included the Arkansas meet (195.325), the Elevate the Stage meet (195.85) and the Florida meet (197.825). All of this is meant to give a more consistent representation of each team s abilities before postseason.

Close call

On Monday, Alabama coach Dana Duckworth said Aja Sims is fine after being pulled from the lineup last Friday. While warming up, Sims fell off the uneven bars, took a hit to the head and underwent concussion protocol. The senior is tied for 10th on the floor exercise with a 9.895 RQS. She also has a season-high 9.975 and is the Crimson Tide s anchor performer.

Guest appearances

Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin will be at Coleman Coliseum on Friday for Alabama s meet against No. 12 Boise State. She was a member of the 2008 U.S. women s gymnastics team that took home the team silver from Bejing, China.

Terrin Waack

Alabama’s Coco Knight (13) moves toward the goal during the first half of a game against Tennessee at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa on Thursday. [Staff Photo/Erin Nelson]

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