I went to Pauley Pavilion Saturday night expecting to see a competitive basketball game between UCLA and USC.
The game was a dud as the Bruins suffered their worst loss to the Trojans in more than 60 years. But I was still entertained.
The entertainment was provided by football coach Rick Neuheisel, who was handed a microphone at halftime and proceeded with a monologue to the delight of his players who also were on the court and a capacity crowd.
Neuheisel was taking full advantage of an opportunity to gloat about USC losing its dominant coach, Pete Carroll. to the Seattle Seahawks.
“If you followed football in this city during the last week you know the landscape is changing,” said Neuheisel. “We welcome Lane Kiffin to Los Angeles. We’ve competed against him before and we look forward to competing against him again.
“We won’t rest until we’ve won the Pac-10 championship and a national championship.”
The removal of Carroll’s giant shadow from the landscape is a major victory for Neuheusel. But his 7-6 record this season is a reminder of the distance yet to be covered.
There will be battles won and lost for football superiority in Los Angeles in upcoming days.
The schools are competing for players as the February 3 signing day approaches. They were also competing for an assistant coach, Norm Chow, and he decided to stay at UCLA.
Chow made $640,000 at UCLA last season. His contract expired, and when USC inquired about his availability, Chow was in an excellent bargaining position.
UCLA gave him a raise to stay, but it wasn’t the $1 million per year USC was reportedly offering.
Chow turned down USC because he didn’t have a good relationship with Kiffin when they worked on Carroll’s staff and because Kiffin planned to call the plays in 2010, a job Chow used to have with the Trojans.
As for players, three of the highest profile recruits have been in limbo during the past week. USC is hoping receiver Kyle Prater from Illinois and quarterback Dillon Baxter from San Diego will join them. UCLA has apparently lost out on quarterback Brett Nottingham from Danville, California amid reports he has chosen Stanford.
Prater is the latest in a long line of can’t-miss out-of-state receivers coveted by the Trojans in the class of Mike Willians and Dwayne Jarrett. As of Sunday night, when this story was being written, Prater was leaning to enrolling at USC in a week rather than signing with Notre Dame or Illinois. Apparently he was comforted by Kiffin becoming the Trojans’ coach.
Baxter runs as well as he passes and was told by Carroll he would be the featured back in the Wildcat offense at USC. But when Carroll left, Baxter began considering other schools. One is Oregon, which has a wide open offense well suited to his skills.
Baxter ran for nearly 3,000 yards last season, completed 60 percent of his passes and scored 76 touchdowns.
Nottingham represents a major loss for Neuheisel. He’s 6-foot-3 and one of the nation’s best high school passers. Last season he completed 70 percent.
Nottingham reportedly has informed Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and Neuheisel of his decision.
Mirror Sports Editorsports@smmirror.com