Big game no big deal for Bailey NCAA MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

April 04, 1995|By Blaine Newnham | Blaine Newnham,Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- Toby Bailey played the best game for a freshman in an NCAA final since Pervis Ellison rallied Louisville to the championship in 1986.

"Surprising?" said Bailey. "Why should it be surprising? I've played this way in big games all season."

There were heroes aplenty for the Bruins as they won their first national championship in 20 years, but no one was more UCLA, more Southern California, more bizarre than Bailey. His fearless play was the perfect antidote for a UCLA team that so many times had been afraid of its past.

"I'd seen the banners and heard the talk," he said, "but I wasn't even born the last time UCLA won a championship."

It took, frankly, someone with the audacity of a Toby Bailey to turn the corner for the Bruins, to shake the shadow of John Wooden, to remember it is just a game.

Afterward, he put a "national championship" cap on his head both backward and sideways. He looked like the kid Central Casting would pick for a remake of "Our Gang."

"Our plan," said Lorenzo Romar, the UCLA assistant coach, "was to attack Arkansas' pressure, not just break it, but attack it with guys who can finish, who can run, jump and dunk.

"Toby was perfect for the part."

In a game of great athletes, no one was more athletic than Bailey.

"I asked him one time how high he thought Byron Scott had gone in the NBA draft [in 1983]," said Romar, "and he said he had no idea.

"I'm not sure if he knew the point I was trying to make. But if he becomes the kind of shooter you can't leave alone, then he has a chance to be as good as Scott, who I reminded him was the fourth player picked."

On UCLA's second possession last night, the Bruins broke a swarming press on Tyus Edney, got the ball to the middle, and Bailey took it in for a short jump shot.

"I knew this would be my game," he said. "I knew I'd get a lot of shots. This is what I do naturally, score points. The coach gave me the green light, and the game turned out perfectly, up and down, fast-paced."

Bailey hadn't played well in the Saturday's semifinals after a sensational 26-point effort in the West Regional final against Connecticut.

"I play with a certain amount of anger," he said. "I was angry people doubted me after the Oklahoma State game. I was angry they've doubted our team all year long.

"I'm emotional, that's all."

At one point, he took on Arkansas' Corliss Williamson, knocking him to the ground and then glowering over him.

"Nothing personal," Bailey said, "just a way of talking back to all LTC the critics."

Bailey scored 26 points, pulled down nine rebounds, had three assists and two steals in 39 minutes, more playing time than any Bruin except Ed O'Bannon.

A flurry early in the second half set the tone for the Bruins, who were more energetic and passionate about the game than Arkansas was. At the heart of the matter was Toby Bailey.

He scored on a fast break, pulling up to jump over the Arkansas players for a soft, 7-foot shot.

Then there was a rebound, a steal, a tip in. Then the confrontation with big, bad Williamson, who was ceremoniously knocked on his rear end.

Bailey started UCLA's final run to glory with a soaring tip of a missed shot by Ed O'Bannon.

There was a time during the season that Bailey wasn't playing much, clearly behind fellow freshman J.R. Henderson in the pecking order. He had come to UCLA because he was from the neighborhood -- Loyola High School -- because his father was a UCLA grad and because the Bruins had lost their off-guard, Shon Tarver.

"When you've been a star," he said, "it's hard to be on the bench playing a role."

So Bailey sulked until a couple of people woke him up. One was Ed O'Bannon, and the other, John Wooden.

"Ed told me to be happy for the team no matter how big or small my contribution was," said Bailey.

In a meeting with Wooden, Bailey thought he had heard it all.

"People would tell me to be patient, that I was only a freshman and that my time would come. Coach Wooden told me to be patient and that my time would come as a freshman. That was what I wanted to hear."

Bailey saw the 10 championship banners in Pauley Pavilion, but after a while he refused to look at them.

"The past is always there, it's like a ghost wandering around," he said. "We had a quiet understanding that this is the best team we've had at UCLA in quite a while and if we were going to win a national title, this would be our best chance."

Bailey smiled as he thought about the future.

"Tonight is a foreshadow of things to come for me," he said.

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