Cooper shows fire in torrid remarks

Well, that’s one way to put it.

After the USC women’s basketball team beat UCLA 70-63 on Sunday, coach Michael Cooper opened the postgame news conference by saying, “My opening statement is, f— UCLA.”

Interesting start · In just his first season as coach of the Women of Troy basketball team, coach Michael Cooper has riled up controversy. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

Cooper went on to say many more words after that, but — not surprisingly — none seemed to have the same effect as the first sentence.

Many people were taken aback by Cooper’s words, and he promptly apologized for his actions in a letter sent Tuesday to UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell. The Pac-10 issued a reprimand in response to the statement, and it remains to be seen if Cooper will be punished further.

But I, for one, enjoyed the statement.

While the blunt word choice might not have been appropriate, the fiery passion and rivalry that the phrase embodies seems to be one of the only ways to describe the relationship between USC and UCLA. Cooper was visibly excited about the win, as he should be; a win in this matchup seems to rank above most everything else in a coach’s résumé, and to do it in front of a charged-up home crowd is an experience second to none.

So I saw Cooper saying those six words with the intention of displaying how much he, as well as everyone else at USC, cared about the rivalry; not in a malicious spirit but simply a competitive one.

And, to be honest, I didn’t think it was anything new.

Although he is the first one to articulate it so eloquently, Cooper is the last in a long line of USC coaches to make this statement in one form or another during the course of this school year.

Take, for instance, former football coach Pete Carroll, who made his “expletive statement” in the form of some good old football bravado. As you might remember, immediately following a questionable UCLA timeout with the game all-but-over, Carroll decided to take one last shot at the end zone with 44 seconds left in USC’s game against the Bruins on Nov. 28. The result was a 48-yard pass-and-catch from quarterback Matt Barkley to wideout Damian Williams, which put the Trojans up 21 points and caused quite a stir on the sidelines.

“It is just the heart of a competitor — just battling,” Carroll said after the game.

Or how about men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill, who led his team into Pauley Pavilion last Saturday and handed the Bruins a 21-point loss — their worst to the Trojans since the 1944-45 season? He made his   “expletive statement” almost silently, not even knowing the record he had broken.

“I wasn’t aware of all the statistics or any of that stuff, but I’m glad I was a part of it,” O’Neill said in the locker room.

Even Jovan Vavic, the coach of USC men’s water polo, gave his  “expletive statement” this season perhaps in the most fitting form of all: pure, hard-nosed competition. His team won its fifth National Championship since 1998 by edging out the Bruins 7-6 in the NCAA title game — a win that put USC up 3-2 in the season series against UCLA and avenged their semifinal loss to the Bruins in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships.

“It is really fitting for these boys to end up on top, to win their last collegiate game and to beat UCLA,” Vavic said.

So while Cooper’s words were not in the right place, one could argue that his heart was. Of course, to properly put that idea into words seems near impossible without drawing scrutiny (and in this case punishment), but Cooper obviously saw it fit to show his enthusiasm — as he should.

A rivalry as intense as USC and UCLA’s feeds on the sold-out crowds, the epic matchups, the incredible finishes and, yes, even the occasional inflammatory statement. It’s a tradition that has been around for the majority of the schools’ existences, and it embodies everything that collegiate athletics stand for.

And there is no doubt in my mind that the feeling is reciprocated fully by our neighbors in blue and gold.

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