Dollar's drive-in visit puts UCLA in Midwest final Game-winning heroics not new for Bruins guard

March 22, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SAN ANTONIO -- That Monday night in Seattle two years ago is a fading memory for UCLA point guard Cameron Dollar. What he remembers most is not what he did to help the Bruins beat favored Arkansas for the national championship, but a conversation he had with former coach Jim Harrick before the game.

It was in the team's locker room at the Kingdome and Harrick informed Dollar, then a sophomore backup, that he would play a great deal for an injured Tyus Edney. "I thought he was kidding, messing with me," Dollar said yesterday. "I thought it was a joke until I checked into the game and got out there."

What Dollar did that night against the Razorbacks -- scoring six points, getting eight assists and making just two turnovers in 36 minutes -- was the starting point to what has been a career of great heights and equally great depths. Even with that game, Dollar's career might have reached its zenith Thursday night.

In a 74-73 overtime victory against sixth-seeded Iowa State in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal at the Alamodome, Dollar sparked the second-seeded Bruins from a 16-point deficit early in the second half. Dollar scored 16 of his career-high 20 points in the second half, including the two most important of UCLA's season.

It was Dollar's length-of-the-court drive and running 3-foot bank shot with 1.9 seconds to go over the outstretched hand of Kelvin Cato, Iowa State's 6-foot-11 center, that put the Bruins into today's regional final. UCLA (24-7) will meet top-seeded Minnesota (30-3), which beat Clemson, 90-84, in double overtime.

Call it deja Bruin.

"Before the play, Coach [Steve Lavin] had already given me the go-ahead to break it down and go to the rack," Dollar said later. "So I was already in that frame of mind. I got the ball and I was able to get around him. Whenever you see a big man, you never shy away, you go right at him. I tried to go up on him. If he blocks it, we go home. If I make it, we win."

Dollar's shot lifted the shadow that he had played under for the past two years. Though he had hit a similar shot 12 days ago to beat Washington State, the circumstances here were as they had been in Boise, Idaho, during the second round of the 1995 NCAA tournament, when Edney dribbled the court and scored to beat Missouri.

Asked yesterday about the comparison to Edney, Dollar smiled broadly.

"That's my boy," Dollar said. "Anytime you mention me in the same sentence with Tyus I take it as a compliment."

There were plenty of times Dollar had been compared to Edney over the past two seasons, but more often than not it was far

from complimentary. Last season, a hand injury suffered in an intrasquad scrimmage hampered Dollar for much of the year. It ended with Dollar failing to score in 26 minutes of a much-publicized, much-criticized loss to Princeton in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

This season did not begin any better. After the Bruins started 3-3 under Lavin, the new coach pulled Dollar from the starting lineup four times in a stretch of five games, including the team's first three Pac-10 games. Even when Dollar returned to the starting lineup, he continued to struggle, missing 13 of 14 shots in his first three games back.

"The one thing about Cam is that he never lost his confidence," Lavin said. "He knew how important he was to this team. He exemplifies the Bruin Attitude [a list of 23 do's and don'ts Lavin has instituted] better than any player. If he gets 20 and we win, it doesn't matter to him any more than if he gets two points and we win. The only thing he's about is winning."

Dollar's defense today will likely be a lot more important than his offense, considering that there's a good chance he will be matched against Minnesota's Bobby Jackson. Normally a shooting guard for the Gophers, Jackson is expected to see quite a bit of time running the offense because of the shoulder injury suffered by Eric Harris on Thursday night.

While he didn't see Jackson torch Clemson for a career-high 36 points in the semifinals, and he hasn't seen the Gophers play this season, Dollar knows what to expect. It comes from playing in a conference that includes Stanford's Brevin Knight, Arizona's Mike Bibby and Oregon's Kenya Wilkins, not to mention Cal shooting guard Ed Gray.

"The Pac-10 has always been known for great point guards, even before this year," said Dollar, who grew up in Atlanta as the son of a high school coach and spent the last two years of high school in Maryland, one at Harker Prep in Potomac and the other at St. John's at Prospect Hall in Frederick. "The guards in the conference will definitely prepare me for a good point guard and a great competitor like Bobby Jackson."

Said Jackson: "I'm always up for a challenge."

Dollar's teammates admire what he has done in helping the Bruins win 12 straight games and 21 of their past 25. In an informal poll of eight Bruins taken by a Pasadena, Calif., newspaper last week, Dollar got as many votes as Charles O'Bannon as the team's MVP. Dollar abstained, but O'Bannon voted for Dollar.

"Without question, it's Dollar," O'Bannon said. "He's probably faced more criticism than anyone. There's always those who say we start four first-round draft choices, but nobody ever talks about what Cam does. But he's essential to our success. He's the driving force behind what we've done lately."

There is no greater evidence than the drive Thursday night. It not only lifted UCLA within a game of the Final Four, but it also lifted the shadows off Dollar's career.

Pub Date: 3/22/97

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