UCLA forced to be perfect, and so it is NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

April 04, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

SEATTLE -- He left the court 157 seconds into the game, his sprained right wrist dangling and obviously of no use, its limpness a perfect metaphor for UCLA's suddenly reduced chances.

Unable to use Tyus Edney against Arkansas in the NCAA championship game last night, the Bruins needed to play a perfect game, or close to one, to win. They had to have a long list of things go right, no exceptions, or Arkansas would run them out of the Kingdome.

It was a daunting proposition. Edney had carried the Bruins to the title game with a run of brilliant performances. The odds of their winning without their point guard -- "the key to our ignition," Charles O'Bannon had called him -- were slim bordering on none.

The Bruins probably couldn't pull it off more than once or twice in 10 games, if that.

But they did last night.

And they'll be able to savor their sweet, sweet timing for the rest of their lives.

The Bruins weren't exactly perfect in their 89-78 victory, but they were pretty close.

Without Edney, they had virtually no margin of error, no room for a lapse or letdown in a handful of areas. They had to have at least a couple of other players fill in for Edney with huge performances. They had to find a way to keep Arkansas' Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman from taking over. They had to have Edney's sub, Cameron Dollar, play a cool, strong game. They had to find another way to control the game, as Edney had for them throughout the tournament.

If they'd failed on even one of those items, they might well have lost, even on a night when Arkansas' players were so heavy-legged they almost seemed to be playing with ankle weights.

But, remarkably, the Bruins checked off every item on their must-win checklist.

No exceptions.

Perfect.

Two Bruins stepped forward to carry the team with huge performances. Senior forward Ed O'Bannon was player-of-the-year immense, with 30 points and 17 rebounds. And freshman guard Toby Bailey was a revelation, cutting hard to the basket and jumping right over the Hogs' stunned defense to score 26 points.

Both players were spectacular, no less than that, but what the Bruins accomplished on the other end of the floor was perhaps even more essential. They limited Williamson and Thurman to a combined 17 points, less than half of what they average. And they did it without any fancy defenses, without any tricks or gimmicks.

It had appeared before the game that the Bruins had no one to guard Williamson, but their big, bulky center, George Zidek, muscled him far out of the lane and shut him down. Williamson went 33 minutes without a basket and missed 13 of 16 shots. He was completely exhausted down the second-half stretch, worn out by Zidek's bulk.

Thurman, the elegant forward who hit the game-winning shot in last year's championship game, was taken completely out of the game (32 minutes, five points) by the defense of the Bruins' Charles O'Bannon, who gave Thurman no room to maneuver.

Of course, none of it would have mattered if Dollar, a sophomore averaging 3.9 points, had not been ready to fill Edney's little but very big shoes against the Hogs' famous full-court pressure. It was hardly a sure thing that he was up to it, but he was. He had eight assists, six points, four steals and only four turnovers in 36 of the coolest minutes you'll ever see.

He was the decisive player in the game, no question about it. The Hogs didn't faze him.

Still, he didn't dominate the game in Edney-like fashion, which meant that the Bruins had to come up with another way to control things. They did so with their offensive rebounding, collecting 21, two more than Arkansas did on that end of the floor.

The difference in the game was summed up simply in these numbers: The Bruins scored 27 points on second chances, Arkansas only eight.

The Hogs still had a chance late in the game, pulling to within three points with 5:22 to play. Another one of their great escapes seemed imminent, especially considering that UCLA was down to a six-man rotation without Edney and the Hogs were rotating 10 men.

But it was the Hogs who tired, not the Bruins. Williamson, looking as if he were ready to pass out at the free-throw line, missed two of four free throws in a 41-second span. On the other end, Ed O'Bannon hit a jump hook from the baseline, Bailey followed his own miss with a dunk and the lead was back to six.

When Dollar and O'Bannon each made two free throws on the Bruins' next two possessions, the celebration began with four minutes to play.

There would be no repeat for the Hogs.

A perfect game, or very nearly, had done them in.

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