Thursday, January 21, 2010
Mustafa Abdul-Hamid's game-winner prompts student frenzy
UCLA students just couldn't contain themselves.
Guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid had just nailed a buzzer-beating, game-winning jump shot to hand the Bruins a dramatic 62-61 victory over Washington when members of "The Den" -- UCLA's student section -- decided to storm the court at Pauley Pavilion.
“I tried to rush off at first,” freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt said. “The next thing you know, we’ve got to head to our bench. I felt people on my back hitting my head. I turned around thinking it was my teammates.”
Wait, students rushing the court at Pauley?
“It was a heat of the moment thing,” Honeycutt said. “It was against Washington, one of the best teams. I don’t blame the students.”
It's somewhat of an unwritten rule, but rushing the court is reserved for upset wins over top-ranked teams. UCLA fans showing excitement by leaving their seats?
"When is the last time you saw North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas rush the court?” fourth-year student Mike Leary said. “You would expect that things like this happen."
An attempt by students to mob center court following Thursday night's win is a true indication of what type of season the Bruins have had. UCLA had lost two straight, including a 21-point drubbing at the hands of crosstown rival USC last Saturday.
The fact that Abdul-Hamid was the player who sent everyone home happy made the thrilling momentum even more emotional. Abdul-Hamid, a former walk-on who turned down a scholarship offer to play at Harvard, has been a fan favorite since the day he first stepped on campus in 2006.
He backed up Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook in recent seasons and was only used late in games with UCLA leading big. But with sophomore guard Jerime Anderson (hip flexor) not in uniform Thursday, Abdul-Hamid was the primary backup to sophomore point guard Malcolm Lee.
“He’s always ready,” coach Ben Howland said with a smile, the relief obvious in his face.
Through his Twitter account (Ben_Howland), the coach said, "The student section was awesome tonight! You guys have no idea how much you helped our team. We have the best student section in the Pac-10!"
Only about half of the student section decided to run onto the court before policemen contained the crowd almost immediately. Everyone was back on the sidelines within a minute of Abdul-Hamid's last-second miracle as game officials reviewed the tape.
"We have 11 championship banners hanging up there,” Leary said, still standing at his front-row seat in the Den. “We hold ourselves to a higher standard. Rushing the court is based on emotion, but when you’re UCLA basketball, you should expect greatness.”
Perhaps rain, combined with the Bruins' historic loss to the Trojans five days prior, prompted fans to stay home. The announced attendance was a meager 6,503 (Pauley has a basketball capacity of 12,819). Freshman forward Reeves Nelson, who already has somewhat of a cult following amongst students, said he was glad to see the student section full when he walked onto the floor for pregame warm-ups. Some had spent the previous night camped out -- rain and all -- outside of Pauley.
"I’ve always had faith in our student section," Nelson said. "It was fun to see them rush the court after a huge win.”