Will final be classic? Tape it, just in case

April 03, 1995|By JOHN EISENERG

SEATTLE -- OK, couch potatoes, time for your version of an aerobic workout. Time to haul yourself up, make your way across the den and shove a tape into the VCR to record tonight's national championship game between UCLA and Arkansas.

OK, OK, so it's asking a lot to make you move. Go ahead. Just do it. It's worth the sweat. Trust me. The upside potential is considerable. You could wind up with a copy of an "event," one of those things people talk about for years, like Georgetown-Villanova, or Kato on the witness stand.

Sure, pre-game predictions of greatness usually guarantee that the game turns out lousy, commonplace, fodder for being taped over by an all-day "Barney" festival. Life stinks that way, as someone once sang.

There could be such disappointment again tonight, sure. But the odds are on your side this time. This is a championship game with markings that suggest it will rise well above the ordinary.

A UCLA team on an 18-game winning streak against an Arkansas team with core players who, remarkably, have won 11 straight NCAA tournament games and 13 of 14 in their careers.

Not much give there.

The No. 1 team at the start of the season against the No. 1 team at the end of the season.

Not much slack there.

UCLA's high-pressure, ooh-aah offense (marked by baskets that make the crowd go "ooh" and "aah") against Arkansas' high-pressure, contest-every-pass defense.

"I hated playing the Oklahoma State game," UCLA's Toby Bailey said yesterday, referring to the Bruins' slow-paced win in Saturday's semifinals, "but I think I'm going to love playing in this game."

Not that playing Arkansas is ever fun. Just ask North Carolina, which found itself shooting over outstretched hands all night in Saturday's other semifinal. The Razorbacks annoy and exhaust with their defense, which is fortified by a 10-man rotation.

As well, the Hogs have this amazing bulletproof air, a world-weary confidence that makes them seem almost professional, no doubt the result of winning the national championship a year ago and orchestrating all these great escapes during this year's tournament. They have won 12 games by five points or less during the season, plus two more in overtime during the tournament.

Here, truly, is a team that is just plain hard to beat, particularly in a big game.

"We have seen it all; you can't surprise us anymore," guard Clint McDaniel said. "We always think we can find a way to win. Because we always do."

Who said this stuff was complicated?

UCLA will test them as no prior opponent has, though. The Bruins can beat you with point guard Tyus Edney's jitterbug magic, or Ed O'Bannon's soaring three-pointers and slashing drives, or the balance provided by Bailey, Charles O'Bannon and George Zidek. They play hard, smart and tough.

It is a game with many nooks and crannies worth exploring, but three stand out as potentially decisive:

* The Razorbacks' depth. The Hogs, who bank on wearing out opponents, go three players deeper than UCLA. Coach Nolan Richardson can use a big lineup, a small lineup, or a mix. UCLA doesn't have that luxury. And with the game certain to run at a fast pace, the Bruins could tire.

* How the Hogs play Edney. No team has been able to stop him in the tournament, yet he hasn't seen defense this rough and impenetrable. Something must give. This much is certain: If Edney consistently gets around Arkansas' Corey Beck and gets to the baseline with the ball, the Bruins will win.

* How the Bruins defend Corliss Williamson. He presents them with a huge matchup problem. Zidek is too slow, J. R. Henderson too narrow. Look for the Bruins to use a zone defense to keep the Arkansas All-American from taking over the game inside.

On the other side, here are two much-discussed factors that won't decide the game:

* The ghost of John Wooden's success. Today's Generation X UCLA players couldn't care less about trying to live up to the old UCLA standard. "People outside the program talk about it," Dollar said, "but it's not even in our world."

* Both teams' perceived lack of respect. They droned on and on about it at yesterday's news conferences, as if they were both from the MEAC or something. Give us a break and call it a draw.

Who should win? This game rates so close, it's hard to know. The Bruins have been more consistent during the season. But the Hogs are the best team, no doubt about it -- and it has become so hard to put them away that you begin to think no one can.

"Our luck has gotten to the point where, if we were down six with two seconds to play, the other team probably would get three technicals called on them and we'd win in overtime," Williamson said.

The guess here is that consistency will prove decisive, that the Hogs won't be able to pull off another great escape against a team as potent as UCLA.

Bruins 93, Hogs 90.

Up and down the court, in a hurry, for 40 minutes.

Tape it.

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