#rushthetrip Day Four (Continued): Inventive If Nothing Else, Enfield Takes Aim at LAPosted by Bennet Hayes on February 11th, 2014
RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.
Malibu made for a relaxing Saturday afternoon, but I was hoping the evening’s Galen Center visit would provide a little more in the way of energy and passion. After all, LA’s two biggest programs were set to renew pleasantries, with the new shine of the offseason coaching hires not yet worn off. UCLA had pounded USC at Pauley Pavilion a month earlier, but a recent string of competitive USC efforts and a supportive home crowd (I hoped) offered a chance for a closer result this time around. That hope found a basis on the floor in the first half when USC, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in Division I basketball, uncharacteristically connected on five of its 10 attempts from long range, propelling them to a six-point halftime lead. That cushion quickly disappeared after intermission, however, as crisp UCLA offense and a more typical Trojans’ shooting performance led to a 24-5 Bruin run to open the half. USC never really threatened after that, ultimately falling to their crosstown rivals by 10.
In its totality, the Galen Center experience was an odd one. The crowd was about 75 percent pro-USC, but they were never totally engaged, even during a first-half that should have given them plenty to cheer about. USC writers told me that this was the loudest the building had been all season, which, given the Trojans’ struggles in Andy Enfield’s first season, isn’t too surprising. Another strange, random observation: The student section was almost entirely male. I don’t typically calculate the student section gender ratio (although I’d assume there are usually more men than women), but it was that striking Saturday night. It may not really matter who comes to games, but the dearth of female students hints at basketball’s lowered place within USC’s extracurricular hierarchy. Any power conference program will attract its share of sports fans (a male-dominated population), but the consistently successful ones have students attending games as a result of school spirit. Right now, USC basketball has little to do with the typical USC undergraduate’s college experience.
But Andy Enfield and USC are trying to change that. We saw it during Enfield’s grassroots campaign in the weeks before the season, and heard it in his many confident offseason declarations. And the snazzy new Galen Center (opened in 2006) that I saw Saturday night, replete with an in-game DJ situated at the base of the student section, may be the best testament to the initiative. In the arms race that is college athletics, the facility is eye-catching enough to enable Enfield to compete (in theory) with almost anyone on the West Coast. Perhaps more importantly, it levels the playing field – at least a little bit — in the battle with the Bruins for the elite high school talent of Los Angeles. And while gimmicks like the DJ aren’t my cup of tea (college hoops will be dead to me if this ever happens at Allen Fieldhouse), it does fit with the entertainment-centric city that surrounds USC.
Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It remains to be seen whether Enfield and USC reap any rewards from this new look to the Trojan program, but they deserve credit for trying something different. UCLA has long dominated the Los Angeles college basketball scene. Saturday night showed that, for now, they still do; but change is in the air, and Andy Enfield isn’t the only one dreaming of a reorganized hoops hierarchy in the City of Angels.
Next Stop: Boise (Tuesday).