Unbeknownst to most UCLA fans, senior point guard Tyus Edney had a
private conversation with his sophomore counterpart, Cameron
Dollar, just a few hours after the Bruins' 74-61 victory over
Oklahoma State in the NCAA semifinals on April 1. ``Cameron,''
said Edney, the 5 10" dynamo whose leadership, floor presence and
miracle shot against Missouri in the second round of the
tournament had brought UCLA so far, ``you're gonna have to be
ready to go.'' It was no April Fools' joke, either. Only Edney
knew how badly he had sprained his right wrist in a fall during
the first half against the Cowboys -- he had gutted his way
through the rest of the game -- and that it was highly unlikely he
would be anywhere near 100% for the title game against Arkansas
two nights hence.
``I'm ready,'' said Dollar.
What else was he going to say, right? But Dollar, no ordinary
sophomore, meant it. The day before the game he calmly told an
assembled media throng that Arkansas's vaunted full-court press
was ``somewhat of a gimmick'' and that with skillful passing and
thoughtful dribbling ``it could be turned against them.'' That's
how you talk when you're a coach's son, when you've spent much of
your life approaching the game as if it were a giant chalkboard.
All he had to do now was prove it.
Coach Jim Harrick, of course, was going to give Edney a chance to
see if he could endure the pain in the final. About
30 minutes before tip-off, as most of the crowd of 38,540 in the
Seattle Kingdome craned its collective neck to see if John Wooden
had arrived yet, Edney took a three-foot jump shot. It traveled
about one foot. And, sure enough, Edney played only the first
three minutes before Harrick had to take him out for the night.
``It's not fair,'' Edney said to assistant coach Steve Lavin as he
took his seat on the bench. ``It's not right.'' Lavin patted him
on the shoulder and said, ``Look, Tyus, you got us here with the
Missouri shot. Thanks for that.'' He meant it, too. But as Edney
took his seat on the bench and slipped on his warmup jacket, you
couldn't have found too many observers not wearing UCLA
blue and gold who liked the Bruins' chances. And when the
Razorbacks' Clint McDaniel stripped Dollar of the ball the first
time he touched it, even a few of the blue-and-gold faithful had
And so how to explain the Bruins' thorough dismantling of the
defending champions, the 89-78 beating that put an NCAA
championship banner in the rafters of Pauley Pavilion for the
first time since 1975?
``The better team won,'' said a gracious Arkansas coach Nolan
Richardson after the game. That's for sure.
In retrospect, the most amazing thing about UCLA's season is how
much of America didn't truly believe in the Bruins. They won 31
games and lost only two. They won at home, they won on the road.
They won close games and blowouts. They won by running and by
playing a slower tempo. They won with man-to-man, they won with
zone, they won by pressing, they won by pinching the opponent's
big man and aggressively defending what they called ``the red
zone,'' near the basket. They had all the ingredients that winning
teams should have: the magic quarterback in Edney, the go-to guy
in Ed O'Bannon, the traditional big man in the middle in George
Zidek, and a couple of versatile players off the bench in Dollar
and freshman J.R. Henderson. Yet most observers -- doubting either
the coaching of Harrick, the toughness of the Pac-10 as a vehicle
for preparation, the intestinal fortitude of the Bruins themselves
or all three in some combination -- didn't think they could beat
Here's how they did:
-- Dollar. He's no Edney, but lacking in experience as he is, he's
awfully close. And when Dollar showed the skill and tenacity to
dribble through and pass around the Arkansas pressure early, the
game, in effect, was over. That might be an oversimplification,
but it's not much of one, considering that the Razorback pressure
is the key to their game plan. The young point guard finished with
eight assists and, most important, three turnovers, only two after
his early faux pas against McDaniel. After the game one of the
recurring themes was an old, familiar one: The team elevated its
game emotionally because one of its stars was out. That isn't what
happened in Seattle. If Dollar had not been legit, there is no way
UCLA could have overcome Edney's loss, no matter what the
emotional temperature of the two teams. The point guard position
was far too important in this game.
-- Ed O'Bannon. Last season Arkansas had Corliss Williamson. The
great Duke back-to-back champs had Christian Laettner. UNLV had
Larry Johnson. Most championship teams need a player who is
clearly the best on the court, the guy who at crucial times can
take over a game. That was O'Bannon. There was a moment about
four minutes into the second half when he went up, over, between
and through three Arkansas players, one of them Williamson, to
grab an offensive rebound and put it back up for a basket. At
that moment it became clear that O'Bannon, whose NBA stock rose
about 100 points in the title game, was not going to let his
team lose. And the most amazing thing about his 40- minute,
30-point, 17-rebound, three-steal, three-assist effort was that
he accomplished it all within the confines of Harrick's game
plan. He didn't post up and demand the ball. He didn't get it on
the perimeter and waste time trying to break down his defender.
The man who led the Bruins all season truly saved the best for
last. That's what great players do.
-- Toby Bailey. The confident freshman was almost invisible in the
semis against Oklahoma State with just two points. ``I hated that
game,'' he said afterward. ``But I'm looking forward to Arkansas.
That's my style.'' Boy, he wasn't kidding. Rev up the tempo and
Bailey -- the classic, slashing swingman -- becomes one of the
most effective players on the court. Why? Because Bailey attacks
the basket. The best way to combat pressure like Arkansas's is to
be aggressive against it, ``turn it against them'' as Dollar said.
Bailey was the primary reason the Bruins were able to do that,
because his athleticism allowed him to get to the basket. When
McDaniel, Arkansas's best on-the-ball defender, switched off onto
Bailey late in the first half, the Razorbacks paid the ultimate
compliment to a freshman. Of course, Bailey scored on him, too.
``The finals,'' Bailey had said before the game, ``are where the
stars are made.'' And one was made on that Monday night in
-- Charles O'Bannon. It takes not only skill but maturity
to sublimate your own game for the good of the team. And when Ed's
little brother figured out how to do that this season, UCLA became
a truly great team. His handyman performance against Arkansas (11
points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals) was classic
Charles. In the first 50 seconds of the game he came from the weak
side and went high in the air to slap away a Williamson shot, a
play that set the we're-not-backing-down-from-anyone tone for the
game. Harrick has a lot to be grateful for as he contemplates his
first NCAA championship, but the fact that he has an O'Bannon
coming back has to be at the top of the list.
-- Zidek. In the first half the Bruins threw a variety of weapons
at Williamson. But the first thing they needed was for the 7-foot,
250-pound Czech pivotman to move Big Nasty away from the basket.
If that hadn't happened, the weak-side help simply could not have
arrived fast enough to make a difference. Zidek stood toe-to-toe
with Williamson the entire game despite having been whistled for a
ridiculous touch foul just 14 seconds into the game. By the second
half it became apparent that Zidek's size alone could curtail
Williamson, and by and large he covered the Arkansas All-America
by himself in the final 20 minutes, thus allowing his teammates to
stay at home on the Razorbacks' outside shooters. ``Corliss was
taking the ball to the big guy too much,'' said Richardson later.
``This was one game I think Corliss wished never happened.'' It
was the opposite for Zidek -- with his performance against
Arkansas the brainy Czech just may have played himself into the
-- Harrick. The Final Four coach who wasn't supposed to
be on the same planet with his counterparts -- Richardson, North
Carolina's Dean Smith and Oklahoma State's Eddie Sutton --
outcoached them all. Like the majority of coaches, Harrick is a
man-to-man man, but he knew that changing up from time to time was
necessary against teams like Arkansas and Oklahoma State. He did
it smoothly in both the semifinal and the final, often switching
to zone after a timeout to confound the Cowboys and the Hogs, who
had spent the time in the huddle discussing the Bruins'
Then, too, the discipline that Harrick demanded all season from
his transition-oriented team -- and the mind-set that they had to
be smart as well as aggressive -- paid off against Arkansas. The
Razorback pressure, remember, is designed not just to create
steals and turnovers but also to get opponents out of their
offensive rhythm, force them to throw up shots that aren't in the
game plan. That's exactly what Arkansas did to North Carolina in
the semifinals and exactly what it could not do to UCLA in the
final. Credit Harrick for that.
-- Conditioning. The Final Four team with a depth problem was
supposed to be North Carolina, which often used only a seven-man
rotation. But once Harrick stopped going to freshmen Kris Johnson
and omm'A Givens, the Bruins were only seven deep too. And when
Edney went down, they were at six. ``In the second half I felt
like asking Nolan Richardson to borrow some of his players,''
Zidek joked after the game. ``He's got more than he needs.'' But
even though Dollar, who played 36 minutes, lay exhausted on the
locker room floor after the game, the Bruins never wore down
during it. ``This is the best- conditioned team I've ever seen,''
said Harrick. Arkansas's Scotty Thurman was asked after the game
why the Hogs' 10-man rotation didn't exhaust the Bruins. Thurman
shook his head. ``I think they did wear down,'' he said, ``but we
wore down too. The game was fast-paced for both clubs. And I was
kind of surprised at times how they kept attacking the press and
Did all those factors mean the game was easy? By no means. Though
UCLA was the better team throughout, the Razorbacks were still in
the game after a Williamson free throw cut the margin to three
(67-64) with 5:22 remaining. A UCLA lead that had been as large as
12 six minutes earlier was now an Arkansas three-pointer from
being gone. It was E. O'Bannon time. First he made a 10-foot
baseline jumper off a feed from Dollar, which got the lead back to
five. Williamson then hit a free throw, but after a follow-up dunk
by Bailey and two free throws by Dollar, O'Bannon stepped to the
line at 3:54 and made two free throws to push the lead to 75-65.
And with 3:35 left, as Arkansas ran its half-court offense,
looking for a shot, O'Bannon swiped the ball cleanly from Dwight
Stewart; when Bailey then drilled a 16-foot jumper at the other
end to make it 77-65, that was the ball game.
As the seconds ticked away, a chant went up from the UCLA cheering
section: ``Ty-US! Ty-US!'' Fittingly, the Bruin faithful did not
forget the man who had brought them so far. And neither did Ed
O'Bannon, who, after being named tournament MVP, called Edney to
the podium that had been set up on the court and told the crowd,
``That's the real MVP.'' Edney knew that wasn't the case, for the
trophy was in the hands of the right man. But O'Bannon had had
plenty of help. That's how championships are won, and that's how
the Bruins won this one.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Ed O'Bannon's 30-point, 17-rebound effort led the way as the Bruins slam-dunked the defending champs. [Ed O'Bannon dunking basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON/NCAA PHOTOS Early on, Charles O'Bannon rejected any notion that UCLA would fold, even with Edney relegated to cheerleader. [Charles O'Bannon preventing opponent's shot from reaching basket]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Tyus Edney and other members of UCLA basketball team cheeringfrom bench]
COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON/NCAA PHOTOS The play of Ed O'Bannon (above) and Zidek (25) made Williamson disappear, evoking memories of past wizardry. [John Wooden]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Ed O'Bannon outplaying Corliss Williamson under basket]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [George Zidek elbowing past Corliss Williamson]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER After Dollar cashed in on his promise to thwart the Hogs' pressure defense, Bruin fans celebrated a banner night. [Cameron Dollar passing basketball around opponent to GeorgeZidek]
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [UCLA fans holding banner with number 11 on it]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER With Bailey elevating his game at the right time, the emotional triumph brought Ed O'Bannon to his knees. [Toby Bailey dunking basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [Ed O'Bannon kneeling at side of court with hands over face]