Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Updated: December 21, 1:02 PM ET
UCLA top stories of 2011
By Peter Yoon
We asked our writers to rank their top stories of 2011, moments that defined the teams they cover, and affected the fans who followed them. Here, UCLA Bruins writer Peter Yoon makes his picks. Vote on your favorite moments in the poll at right, or add your own in the comments.
5. Ben Howland kisses a reporter
On March 5, the UCLA basketball team defeated Washington State, 58-54, to clinch second place in the Pac-10 and reach 22 victories. Earlier in the season when the Bruins were 9-6 and coming off consecutive losses, L.A. Daily News reporter Jon Gold asked Howland if the team could turn it around and finish with 22 wins. "If we do, I'll kiss you," Howland told Gold. Reminded of that conversation after the Washington State game, Howland delivered. The Bruins went on to win a thrilling game against Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA tournament before finishing at 23-11 with a second-round loss to Florida.
4. Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer drafted No. 1 and No. 3
UCLA pitchers Cole and Bauer were the first and third overall selections in the MLB draft. Cole, a 6-4 right-hander, became the first UCLA player selected first when the Pittsburgh Pirates chose him. Bauer went two picks later to the Arizona Diamondbacks, making them the first teammates since 1978 to go among the top three picks. It ended a special era of UCLA pitching. Bauer ended his career as UCLA's career leader in strikeouts (460), wins (34) and innings pitched (373.1). Cole is second in strikeouts (376), third in games started (49) and fourth in innings pitched (322.1).
3. Tyler Trapani scores final "old Pauley" points
When walk-on guard Tyler Trapani gets into a UCLA basketball game, it's always special for the Bruins. First, because it means the Bruins are well ahead, and second, because he is the great grandson of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. The Bruins had their Feb. 26 game against Arizona well in hand when Trapani entered the game and turned this appearance into a magical moment. He caught an air-balled shot under the basket and laid it in for a basket, scoring the final points of a 71-49 UCLA victory. But what made it special was that those were the final points scored in the Pauley Pavilion that Wooden knew. That was UCLA's last home game and the arena was shut down shortly after that game for a major yearlong renovation project.
2. Reeves Nelson kicked off team
Entering the 2011-12 season, UCLA had high hopes and was picked to win the Pac-12 Conference title in basketball and Nelson was a major reason why. The team's leading returning scorer and rebounder from last season, he was an all-conference selection as a sophomore and was returning for a junior season full of promise. But he breached team conduct codes by routinely getting in verbal altercations with coaches and teammates. He openly sulked when things didn't go his way and regularly alienated teammates in games and at practice. Twice suspended during UCLA's 2-5 start to the season, Nelson was dismissed from the team on Dec. 9, ending his tumultuous, yet sometimes brilliant, UCLA career.
1. Rick Neuheisel fired
The hot-seat talk for Rick Neuheisel began long before this season started and he never seemed to be able to shake it as the Bruins alternated losses and victories through the first seven games. An embarrassing 48-12 loss at Arizona that featured a streaker and a benches-clearing brawl marred the season and Neuheisel was let go after a 50-0 loss to USC. The Bruins managed to earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and Neuheisel stayed on to coach that game. His players honored him by carrying him off the practice field following his final practice, a gesture that made Neuheisel emotional. He ended his tenure with a 21-29 record in four seasons. The school named Jim L. Mora as his replacement Dec. 10.
Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.