In retrospect, it was one of those statements that should never
have been made, at least not in a room filled with 200 reporters.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun probably spoke from the heart that
Friday afternoon, March 24, in an Oakland Coliseum Arena interview
room as he assessed the speed of UCLA point guard Tyus Edney, the
man his Huskies would try to contain in the West Regional final
the following day. It was Calhoun's contention that Edney could
not possibly be as quick as Georgetown freshman Allen Iverson,
whom the Huskies had faced three times in Big East Conference
``He's not as fast as Iverson,'' Calhoun declared, ``I guarantee
It was an odd thing to say before a big game, if only because the
time-honored tradition of stroking opponents as if they were
Fabio's hair calls for the squelching of any comment that could be
interpreted as unflattering. But Calhoun is a proud New Englander,
and he wasn't up to playing the lying game that day. Perhaps
Calhoun felt compelled to stick up for East Coast basketball. Or
maybe he did not want the five starters who flanked him on the
interview podium to hold Edney in awe. Whatever Calhoun's
reasoning, the comment served no apparent purpose. When it was
relayed to its subject, Edney barely seemed to react. But it
looked pretty damned insolent on the UCLA bulletin board.
Now, it would be foolish to suggest that a stray statement from
Calhoun was responsible for UCLA's 102-96 victory over UConn for a
berth in the Final Four. The Bruins were the better -- and, yes,
faster -- team, and they would ultimately race to their first NCAA
title in 20 years. But it is true that after the West final, in
the giddy UCLA locker room, Calhoun's words were being invoked as
the impetus for the much more significant statement the Bruins had
made on the court.
Cameron Dollar, Edney's fleet and underrated backup, was one who
took exception to Calhoun's comment. ``Why say that?'' Dollar
said. ``We don't like to compare players. We don't go on rep. We
just go out and play.''
And when Edney plays at full, dizzying speed, it inevitably
translates into hard work for his opponents. The Huskies prided
themselves on their ability to run with and rattle any team in the
country, but Edney played Fawn Hall to UConn's Iran-Contra
documents, shredding the fearsome Husky press beyond recognition.
More important than his 22 points and 10 assists was the way in
which Edney rendered impotent Connecticut's main defensive weapon.
In the early stages of the second half the Husky defense began
retreating and letting Edney bring the ball up the court
unimpeded. This was a development akin to a New York City cabbie's
disconnecting his horn, and everyone knew it. On the Bruin bench,
players and coaches practically broke out in celebration.
``That was a psychological swing for us,'' UCLA assistant Steve
Lavin said. ``We watched every game of theirs on film, and it was
the first time all season we'd seen a complete retreat. Maybe we
broke their spirit a little bit.''
Some might argue that Connecticut's spirit had already been broken
-- by Edney, of course -- as the halftime buzzer sounded. Riding
the superb effort of forward Ray Allen, a sublime sophomore who
would score 36 points by day's end, the Huskies had cut the Bruin
lead to 45-41 by the final seconds of the first half. Allen had
scored Connecticut's last 10 points, and when UCLA's Charles
O'Bannon called timeout with 3.6 seconds remaining, the move
reeked of waste.
Instead, Edney laid waste to the upbeat halftime speech Calhoun
had been plotting. Given what had happened two rounds earlier
against Missouri -- Edney dashed the length of the court in the
final 4.8 seconds to score the Bruins' winning basket -- UCLA's
strategy should have been obvious. This time Edney took Dollar's
inbounds pass, blew into the frontcourt and pulled up 26 feet from
the basket. With several Huskies nearby and point guard Kevin
Ollie right in his face, Edney drained a three-pointer. Then he
busted a move that would have made Madonna proud, striking a
hands-on-hips pose with a stern facial expression while teammates
ran to mob him.
Edney's pose will endure as the lasting image of this regional,
one that began with so much promise of close games but turned out
to be merely another example of UCLA's frightening potency. After
the Bruins' second-round scare against Missouri, some people
talked themselves into believing that safe, patient Mississippi
State had a chance of lulling UCLA into submission. This theory
hinged on the inside dominance of Bulldog center Erick Dampier, a
6 11" sophomore who had blocked eight shots in Mississippi State's
second-round drubbing of Utah. As usual it was Edney, the
unanimous choice as the regional's Most Outstanding Player, who
dispelled that myth.
Three minutes and 11 seconds into Thursday night's game against
the Bulldogs, Edney drove hard to the hole, challenged Dampier and
flipped in an off-balance bank shot while drawing a foul from the
big man. One minute later Edney did it again, converting the
three-point play for an 11-7 Bruin advantage. Said Dollar, ``It
was like [Edney] was saying, `We're ready to roll, baby. Yeah,
[Dampier] is a shot-blocker, but he's gonna have to prove it to
With center George Zidek smothering Dampier, foreshadowing the
Czech native's shutdown of Arkansas star Corliss Williamson in the
NCAA championship game, the Bulldogs had to rely on their
three-point shooting. By halftime they were 0 for 11 from outside
the arc. The Bruins led 40-19, and this one was over. The final
score was 86-67, but it was so much uglier. To put it graphically,
Kris Johnson, UCLA's seldom-used freshman, attempted only two
fewer field goals in his seven minutes than Dampier (who finished
4 for 4 with 11 points) did in his 34. The only big scorer for
the Bruins was star forward Ed O'Bannon, who dropped in 21 points
in 29 minutes and seemed to have his mind on bigger things, like a
trip to Seattle.
Fans at the Coliseum Arena figured the other regional semifinal,
between second-seeded Connecticut and third-seeded Maryland, would
provide an evening's worth of drama and excitement. It didn't,
because the Huskies, with their press functioning at full force,
jumped on the Terrapins from the start and never allowed them to
attain any sort of flow in the 99-89 UConn victory. The Husky
attack looked so fearsome and so complete that Bruin fans had to
wonder what awaited their heroes on Saturday. After all, the UCLA
rotation consisted of only seven men, while the Huskies often
appeared to have that many players on the court at one time.
The two teams were in very different mental spaces that Friday.
UCLA is on the quarter system, and most of the Bruin players were
studying for final exams. Edney, for example, was cramming for an
earth-and-space-sciences test that covered the intricacies of
dinosaur bones. (The academic atmosphere was tainted, however, by
the message that graced the chalkboard in the Bruin locker room
following the victory over UConn: congradulations bruins -- see
you in the final four.) UCLA's schedule was so tight that when the
team bus, en route from the arena to the Bruins' San Francisco
hotel, stopped at Wendy's for a late-afternoon meal, coach Jim
Harrick made his players order their food to go.
The Huskies, meanwhile, seemed determined to enjoy their Bay Area
experience. A few hours before the team's 2 p.m. press conference,
Calhoun took his players on an impromptu trip across the bay to
Fisherman's Wharf. One reporter spotted the Huskies riding a cable
car about 15 minutes before the press conference was scheduled to
begin. Shortly thereafter Calhoun grabbed three of his best
players -- Allen, Ollie and senior forward Donny Marshall -- and
hailed a cab, exhorting the driver to finesse his way through
traffic. Ollie fell asleep, while Marshall fretted over the
driver's perpetual honking, reasoning that ``out here, they'll
shoot you for that.''
Marshall went on to assert at the press conference that East
Coast basketball is tougher than the Western version, and these
remarks, like Calhoun's statement, bothered the Bruins.
Marshall, however, did not. On Saturday, Ed O'Bannon made up for
a subpar offensive effort by limiting the swift Marshall to 15
points. The Bruins cruised to a victory that was much more
convincing than the six-point margin suggested. On TV the
player-of-the-game designation was shared by freshmen Toby
Bailey (26 points, nine rebounds) and J.R. Henderson (18
points). But in the locker rooms everyone -- Calhoun included --
knew who the real hero was.
``Tyus Edney was the best player on the floor today,'' Harrick
said afterward. ``I hate to say that, because Ray Allen was
brilliant, but Tyus controlled that game. With him here, I don't
think anyone can press against us. I'm telling you, Tyus Edney is
the real deal. And he's been there all the time. It's just that
nobody ever noticed.''
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Zidek hooked it and Edney hoofed it to down the Dogs. [George Zidek shooting basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [Tyus Edney keeping basketball away from opponent]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Ed O'Bannon looked skyward against MSU and Bailey soared over the Huskies, all of which brought the stars out. [Jack Nicholson sitting with fans]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Ed O'Bannon during game]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Toby Bailey shooting basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH After Edney and the Bruins shut down Marshall with picture-perfect D, Ed O'Bannon captured the moment. [Tyus Edney and teammate trying to prevent opponent fromshooting basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [Ed O'Bannon holding on to basket rim while using video camera]