In terms of octane, Michael Cooper kicked the USC-UCLA women’s basketball rivalry from unleaded to premium when the Trojans coach directed one of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” at the Bruins after a win last month.
“I put some gasoline 91 — not that 89 but 91 — on it,” he said recently. “Runs a little hotter.”
Sizzling, even smoldering, perhaps, because a crowd of 8,006 showed up at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday to witness the Bruins crush the Trojans, 74-56.
That was the fifth-largest crowd ever to watch a UCLA women’s basketball home game. Cooper had the sense many showed up to shower him with invective.
“Sometimes the intensity of a rivalry can create some emotions that, usually, if you don’t say anything, they stay dormant,” he said after.
Consider his vulgar comment in the last meeting the tremor that sparked the eruption.
Behind the crowd, the Bruins ran to a 37-18 halftime lead with advantages in points in the paint (24 to six), points off turnovers (16 to two) and bench points (14 to two).
From there, the Bruins (winners of six of seven) sailed while Trojans (losers of four straight) sunk — and the crowd practiced the wave.
“It was fun, exciting,” said Bruins guard Erica Tukiainen, who tied for a team-high 13 points. “Usually you can hear a pin drop.”
In truth, the crowd seemed tame compared with what Cooper forecast the day before:
* A cheerleader at the start reminded the crowd that “the last time these two teams met, their coach ran his mouth off.”
* The UCLA student band battered him throughout, but before tipoff he stood and waved his hands toward them, as if to ask if that’s all they had.
Afterward, Cooper’s opening statement was brief: “UCLA kicked our butts.”
He said nothing went well, namely rebounding (UCLA won that, 44-29), and that the team learned a lesson . . . to box out and rebound.
UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell holds a public relations degree from Tennessee, so one wouldn’t expect a retaliatory remark in a public forum.
But, she still aimed a spry, if harmless, quip at Cooper.
“Me, I’m old-school,” she said. “My mom always told me, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ So, good win, UCLA.”
Cooper looked back on his admitted slip of the tongue days before, and acknowledged that he changed the rivalry, perhaps for good.
“The intensity is there,” he said. “I just upped the ante a little bit. On purpose? No. By mistake, foot in the mouth? Yes.