STAYING UP THE BRUINS DEFIED THEIR CRITICS BY GETTING OFF TO A STRONG START AND FINISHING EVEN STRONGER

April 14, 1995

It was only a matter of time, wasn't it? Angelenos, inured to the
next 6.7- point quake or Chevy Chase's next movie, had come to
live in anticipation of yet another reliable disaster -- UCLA
hoops. The 1994-95 regular season was sure to unfold as so many
others had before it: After a dazzling start the Bruins would
asphyxiate down the stretch, their collapse a source of relish to
the cacophonous call-in shows. True, a certain national
publication in its college basketball preview issue had pegged
UCLA the country's No. 1 team, but that, the hardened fatalists
said, would only serve to accentuate the depth of this year's
nosedive.

And yet, it would be only a matter of time -- one week and four
days in February, to be exact -- for these Bruins to demonstrate
that they had the character and talent to override their image as
objects of ridicule. For in a regular-season schedule that would
provide them with an opportunity to bury old ghosts and avenge old
wounds, there was a five-games-in-11-days stretch that would
either make them or break them. ``A mini-tournament,'' sophomore
guard Cameron Dollar called it. And instead of snapping like twigs
in a Laguna Beach brushfire, the Bruins solidified their status as
the land's most potent ensemble, thanks especially to the play of
wraithlike forward Ed O'Bannon.

Long before the Bruins reached that crucial juncture, however,
they had to learn a few things about themselves. After the
traditional season-opening drubbing of a hapless patsy, this time
an 83-60 defeat of Cal State-Northridge at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA
faced a stiff test in its second game, at the inaugural Wooden
Classic in Anaheim. The game pitted the fifth-ranked Bruins
against No. 3 Kentucky in the first meeting of these two teams
since UCLA whipped the Wildcats 92-85 in the 1975 championship
game in San Diego. That was the last time the Bruins had won an
NCAA title.

UCLA fell behind early, but steadily whittled away at a 10-point
Kentucky lead and trailed only 81-80 with 15.5 seconds left, when
coach Jim Harrick called the ``fist'' play, designed for O'Bannon.
But the Wildcats converged on him, forcing senior point guard Tyus
Edney to dribble through traffic and feed freshman forward J.R.
Henderson, who was fouled with .6 to go. Under extreme pressure --
``If he misses, I'm going to kick him off the team,'' O'Bannon
said as Henderson stepped to the line -- J.R. shot down Kentucky
by swishing two. It was only the first of many vital contributions
that the team's unflappable freshmen, Henderson and guard Toby
Bailey, would make all season.

After four straight nonconference wins by an average of
24.8 points -- one of the victories, a 137-100 wipeout of George
Mason, was highlighted by Edney's school-record 11 steals -- the
Bruins were No. 2 in the polls going into their Pac-10 opener, at
Oregon on Jan. 5. Ah, McArthur Court, site of a UCLA disaster a
year ago when the Bruins dropped their season ender to the Ducks
80-79 with the conference title at stake. This time, with
vengeance in their hearts and the No. 1 ranking on the line, the
Bruins emerged with . . . another embarrassing defeat. They were
beaten black- and-blue in the ``red zone,'' the area under the
hoop they had sworn to guard with their lives. UCLA surrendered 25
offensive rebounds in an 82-72 loss. ``We played like we were a
high school team,'' O'Bannon said after the game. ``We didn't play
hard. We didn't play together. We didn't crash [the boards] like
we usually do. We didn't do nothing, same as last year.''

For the next game, at Oregon State, Harrick made his first change
in the starting lineup. He inserted Henderson for Dollar and
matched him up against Beaver star Brent Barry. ``Can you guard
this guy?'' asked Harrick. ``I can guard anybody,'' responded
Henderson, who held Barry to eight shots in an 87- 78 victory.
Still, the Beavers became the first team to hit more than half
their field goal tries against the UCLA defense, so there was
something else for the coaches to worry about.

The next big test was UCLA's annual trip to Arizona, and it had
the makings of a loss-and-loss weekend for Harrick & Co. But
fired up by Edney's 19 points, nine rebounds and total eclipse
of Wildcat guard Damon Stoudamire, who went 1 for 12 from
three-point land, UCLA silenced No. 11 Arizona in Tucson 71-61
on Jan. 19. Some 36 hours later, at Tempe, O'Bannon spearheaded
a small UCLA lineup that thwarted No. 13 Arizona State,
especially center Mario Bennett, who was held to 14 points and
was reduced to tears after the Sun Devils' 85-72 loss.

Now people around the conference, and around the nation, were
starting to take notice. Bill Frieder, the Arizona State coach who
had put together the Michigan team that won the 1989 national
championship, said these Bruins were ``better than any team I
coached.'' After beating Stanford 77-74 back home at Pauley for
their third straight win over a Top 20 team, the Bruins stood No.
4 in the nation, 12-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play.

They also found themselves standing on the court watching visiting
Cal practice the day before their game on Jan. 28. Inspired by
UCLA's hubristic hooting at every missed free throw in that
practice, the Golden Bears got even with their hell-bent play and
won the game 100-93. ``I know all the tradition they have here at
UCLA, but to me UCLA is just another school in the Pac-10,'' Bear
freshman Jelani Gardner said.

Would this comeuppance from Cal inspire UCLA's customary tragic
swoon? Fortunately for the Bruins, they had a soft spell in which
to pull out of a possible tailspin. And there were portents of
things to come in consecutive conquests of USC (73-69), Notre Dame
(92-55) and Washington (74-66). First, Dollar got a taste of what
it was like to fill in at point when a flu-ridden Edney was unable
to play against the Trojans. He did so admirably, D-ing up hard
and dishing for three vital jams in downing the Trojans. Then,
against the Irish, O'Bannon became enraged after a hard foul on
Edney, and while his tantrum drew a technical, it ``invoked the
killer instinct in us,'' according to Bruin center George Zidek.
Finally, before the game in Seattle, Harrick took the team bus on
a detour to the Kingdome, the site of the Final Four. There was an
auto show going on there, but, said Zidek, ``I don't care if the
Kingdome was filled with RVs today. It still looked great.'' Next
up was a trip to Pullman, where Bailey and Henderson combined for
43 points to deal Washington State its first home loss, 98-83.
Then came the 11 days that shook the college basketball world:
o Thursday, Feb. 16, at Pauley. O'Bannon racks up 22 points in an
82-77 victory over 13th-ranked Arizona State, burying the Bruins'
only trey to give them a seven-point cushion in overtime. ``A
great gut-check game,'' Harrick calls it.

-- Sunday, Feb. 19, at Pauley. O'Bannon scores a career-high
31 points with 10 boards in 39 minutes to lead the Bruins to a
72-70 defeat of 12th-ranked Arizona. ``They tried a box-and-chase,
a zone and a man-to-man,'' Harrick says, ``and they still couldn't
stop him.''

-- Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Stanford. O'Bannon again stars:
His 22 points, nine rebounds, five assists and career-high five
blocks help trip up the No. 19 Cardinals 88-77. O'Bannon also
switches to guard Cardinal forward Andy Poppink in the second
half, holding him to just six points. ``With UCLA's tough
schedule, we really thought this was a big opportunity for us,''
says Poppink after the game.
-- Thursday, Feb. 23, at Cal. On a team that scarcely takes
threes, let alone makes them, O'Bannon buries seven to tie
Reggie Miller's school mark in a 104- 88 triumph. Zidek adds
five dunks and goes 11 for 13 from the floor as UCLA shoots a
school-record 66.7% from the field to exact its revenge on the
Bears. ``I don't know if the Lakers could have gotten them
tonight,'' Cal coach Todd Bozeman says.

-- Sunday, Feb. 26, at Pauley. National TV, the No. 1 ranking in
the balance (because of a Kansas loss earlier in the week) and
Duke, the UCLA of the '90s, on the floor. With the spotlight at
its brightest, O'Bannon goes for 37 in a 100-77 rout, erasing any
doubt about lingering knee troubles from surgery five years ago.
``This is it,'' says sophomore forward Charles O'Bannon, Ed's
brother. ``Stepping out for threes, working hard underneath,
playing defense. That's the way Ed played in high school.''

In those five wins Ed O'Bannon averaged 27.8 points,
9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.0 steals; shot 58.5% from the
floor and 87.1% from the line. ``Ed was just out of this world,''
assistant coach Mark Gottfried said later. ``That was the
beginning of when our team believed we were good enough to win it
all.''

This, then, would be the 1994-95 Bruins: not only avoiding
catastrophe but actually getting stronger down the stretch. The
explosive Bailey, who had replaced Henderson in the starting
lineup in the Stanford game on Feb. 21, nailed a career-high
24 points in an 85-66 win over Southern Cal on March 1, then
encored with 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against
Louisville in a 91-73 victory on March 5. Four days later the
Bruins secured the Pac-10 title with their 12th win in a row,
against Oregon State. The Beavers' retiring coach, Jim Anderson,
lauded Edney and Ed O'Bannon afterward, saying, ``They're kind of
like their Batman and Robin. They just take over.''

The finale came against Oregon, which had thwarted the Bruins last
season. This time, on Senior Night, the Bruins triumphed, 94-78.
Edney forced guard Kenya Wilkins into six turnovers and 0-for-10
shooting from the field. And Ed O'Bannon, after lifting his
10-month-old son, Aaron, high over his head in the pregame
ceremonies, got down on his knees when the game was almost over
and kissed center court, to wave after wave of applause, as he
left his last UCLA home game.

Minutes later O'Bannon was cutting down the net. The ladder did
not topple, the stands did not collapse, the sky did not fall. At
last the Bruins were going out of the regular season as they had
come in: on top.

``If you think this was emotional, wait until you see after the
first round, after the second round, after the third round,''
Dollar said. ``I think we're ready to do something special.''

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Ed O'Bannon watched a shot fall against the Wildcats, who wentdown themselves in UCLA's first real test. COLOR PHOTO: ANDY NELSON/EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD Charles O'Bannon and friends were undressed again up in Oregon (left), but the Bruins then smothered USC. [Charles O'Bannon stealing ball from Oregon player] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [UCLA player sandwiched by two USC players while shootingbasketball] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON While Harrick pointed the way, Edney (11) flew past the Irish, Zidek (25) held off the Sun Devils, and Bailey and O'Bannon passed around the Cardinal.[Tyus Edney in action against Notre Dame] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [Jim Harrick] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [George Zidek keeping ball away from Arizona opponent] COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN D. TIRPAK [Toby Bailey and Charles O'Bannon pass ball around Stanfordplayer] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON In March, Charles O'Bannon (13) stuffed like a lion against USC and helped make lambs out of Louisville. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Charles O'Bannon and teammates playing Louisville]

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