UCLA, Notre Dame revisit historic men’s basketball rivalry

LOS ANGELES — It’s been nearly 20 years and the fine details have faded away in Tyus Edney’s memory bank. He thought he went 3-1 against Notre Dame at UCLA. He went 2-2, but grins at the memory of his final bout with the Fighting Irish in 1995, a 92-55 drubbing that was the largest margin of victory in the annual series in more than 20 years.

“That whole season, we were just on a mission,” Edney said this week. “That year, it felt like anybody you put in front of us, we just wanted to kill.”

The Bruins won the NCAA title that year, using Edney’s iconic full-court sprint-and-layup in the second round of the tournament to knock off Missouri. The second-year assistant coach can only hope a similar result against Notre Dame on Saturday could propel UCLA to such heights this season.

UCLA and Notre Dame will revisit their storied rivalry at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Pauley Pavilion, the first leg of a home-and-home series that will continue in South Bend next season. More than 40 years after Notre Dame shocked college basketball by ending UCLA’s 88-game winning streak, the mythology of the rivalry remains, even though the current team’s focus remains on the present.

“There’s a great history between the two schools,” freshman Jules Bernard said. “It’s going to be good for both programs, but for the players, it’s just another great game for us to prove ourselves.”

When asked about what he knows of the rivalry, sophomore Chris Smith recalled the story that Notre Dame halted UCLA’s winning streak. He knew the exact number of games, too.

“I don’t know much about them, but I know that,” said Smith, who turns 19 this month.

UCLA avenged the 71-70 loss one week later with a 19-point win in Pauley Pavilion.

The teams played annually for nearly 30 seasons, meeting 42 times and never matching up in the NCAA tournament. For 12 years, they played twice, once in South Bend and once in Westwood. It was an unusual arrangement then-Notre Dame head coach Digger Phelps concocted to help elevate the Irish, long known as a football power, to the upper echelon of men’s basketball by scheduling top opponents. His selling point to John Wooden was that the UCLA coach could return to his native Indiana every year.

“It wasn’t that hard to get it done because Coach Wooden’s first coaching job was at South Bend Central High School in the 1940s,” Phelps told Notre Dame’s website in 2014. “By playing home and home, it gave him a chance to get back to Indiana at least once a year.”

The series faded after the 1995-96 season, which was Notre Dame’s first in the Big East. With the Irish, who have since moved to the ACC, dropping their independent status and both schools wanting to schedule other high-profile opponents, the regular series ended.

Popularity of neutral-court tournament events make nonconference scheduling even more complicated now. The current home-and-home series is the third group of games between the old rivals since the regular series ended, although they haven’t met in a decade.

UCLA guard Malcolm Lee, left, knocks the ball away from Notre Dame forward Tyrone Nash during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

The Bruins won the last meeting 89-63 in 2009 in Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA head coach Steve Alford said it’s difficult to find enticing home-and-home nonconference series for the Bruins because they often require cross-country travel. But with the tradition against Notre Dame and his relationship with Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, “it makes so much sense,” Alford said.

Brey will have a local guide when he leads the Irish into Westwood with Rex Pflueger, a Mater Dei alumnus. The Notre Dame guard was the OC Register’s Player of the Year in 2015, leading the Monarchs in scoring, assists and steals as a senior. The team captain is now the lone four-year senior on the Irish roster.

UCLA vs. Notre Dame

Records: UCLA (6-2), Notre Dame (6-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pauley Pavilion

Watch/listen: ESPN2/AM 1150

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