Twenty-four hours before UCLA's semifinal game against Oklahoma
State, it was almost as if the Bruins already trailed by a bucket.
Folks were chirping about the first huge basket of the Final Four,
an ominous Bryant Reeves dunk on Friday afternoon. During the
shootaround at the Kingdome, a place where debris always seems to
be falling from above, Reeves executed a monumental flush that
shattered the backboard, sending the Cowboy center and his
teammates scrambling for cover and the ball boys scavenging for
souvenir shards of glass. ``I guess he's trying to send a message
to all of us,'' said North Carolina center Rasheed Wallace, who
witnessed the destruction. ``That was awesome. Now I know why they
call that guy Big Country.''
It was no less than the fourth backboard Reeves has wasted in his
college career, but according to the statistics wizards at the
NCAA, it was the first ever crushed at a Final Four. As UCLA
center George Zidek prepared to square off against Reeves the next
day, he was asked if he had ever shattered a backboard. He paused
for a moment and said in his halting monotone, ``It is my dream.''
Reeves, for his part, looked like some giant third-grader
expecting a summons to the principal's office. After all, this
sort of mischief is not what the Cowboys are about. Save that for
the guys from Hollywood. And Hollywood is what Oklahoma State
would be facing, according to the way their contest was billed.
Glitz versus Grit. Up-tempo versus No Tempo. Wooden versus Iba. In
fact, there was so much idle prattle about the two schools'
legendary coaches, OSU's Henry Iba and UCLA's John Wooden, you
would have thought the game was being played in 1965. Rumors
swirled that Wooden was charting a course for Seattle. Iba was
already there in the spirit of the Cowboys, who still play his
disciplined style, and Bob Kurland might as well have been manning
``I thought it would come down to Big Country against Foreign
Country,'' Bruin guard J.R. Henderson said, referring to Reeves
and Zidek, ``but when it was all over, it was the little guy who
April 14, 1995
They call tall guys Tiny. They call fat guys Slim. For the same
reason, they call UCLA senior point guard Tyus Edney Scary Boy.
Says teammate Toby Bailey, ``With that cute little face [Tyus]
couldn't scare a five-year-old . . . until he walks out on the
It was Scary Boy who had saved UCLA from another off-season as
talk-radio fodder by making his majestic full-court dash in the
final 4.8 seconds against Missouri in the second round. And Edney
had been the driving force behind the Bruins' hair-raising trek
through the West Regional. ``Tyus is the man,'' Charles O'Bannon
said. ``He's the key to our ignition. Without him our team
Against the Cowboys, Edney darted all over the court, at one point
even slipping across the lane and, upon finding hands in every
direction, tossing up a ridiculous no-look prayer that somehow
found the net. Edney later admitted that the shot gave him
confidence to venture in again and again among the tall trees. He
even attempted to thwart a Cowboy 4-on-1 fast break by drawing a
charge, but in the process he took an ugly tumble under the Bruin
basket and wrenched his right wrist.
Despite all of Edney's acrobatics, and although UCLA appeared to
dominate the first half, the Bruins stumbled into the locker room
an incredulous bunch, tied 37-37. ``It was like somebody had
died,'' Bailey said. ``Everybody in there was quiet, with their
heads bowed, because we thought we should be blowing them out.''
That's when coach Jim Harrick stormed in and rekindled the fire
beneath his team, demanding, ``Did you think this would be easy?''
After that the defense took over. But it wasn't the Cowboys'
suffocating defense, which had been responsible for upsets of Wake
Forest and UMass in the previous rounds; this time it was the
Bruin defense. UCLA limited Oklahoma State to 32% shooting from
the floor and 24 points in the second half. The Cowboys' only
threatening marksman, Randy Rutherford, was 4 for 13 from the
field in the game. Still, the Cowboys succeeded in cutting an
eight-point lead to one, 50-49, with 9:10 left. That's when the
fearless Edney drove the lane again, careening off Reeves, a man
literally almost twice his size, and completing a three-point
play. Moments later, with UCLA up 58-56 and just under four
minutes remaining, Edney grabbed the game by the throat. He had
been hearing whispers that his man, Cowboy point guard Andre
Owens, could not stay with him and that it was time to take
advantage of the mismatch. Said Harrick, ``I just kept telling
him, `Take him, Tyus.' ''
Said Henderson, ``It was almost like we had to talk [Tyus] into
it, but he finally listened. We saw that their guy couldn't handle
him, and we were all telling [Tyus] to break him down.''
Owens was not unaware of the urging. ``You could hear all their
guys saying, `Take him, Tyus,' and I guess you could say he took
me,'' said Owens, who was shut down throughout the game. ``I think
he's only about 5 8" or 5 9", but he plays like 6 feet.''
On three consecutive possessions Edney squirted into the paint
and negotiated the Cowboys' defensive web. The three trips
netted Edney two layups and two free throws, gave UCLA a
three-point lead and forced Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton to
take a timeout to change tactics. ``We had to try something
different,'' Sutton said. ``That little guy was completely
breaking down our defense, and the game was slipping away.''
During that timeout Harrick switched his team into a 2-3 zone that
seemed to confuse the Cowboys. First, Rutherford put up an air
ball on a potential game-tying three-pointer with 1:59 remaining.
After that the Cowboys never scored another point. Meanwhile UCLA
made 10 free throws to clinch its 74-61 victory. For the record,
Big Country scored 25 points but was limited to 3-of- 8 shooting
in the second half; both backboards were left standing.
``Tyus controlled the tempo of the whole game, hitting all the key
shots, and proved he's the best player on the floor,'' said Ed
O'Bannon, the best player on the floor. ``I don't believe there is
anybody in the country who could have guarded Tyus tonight.''
It was sweet redemption for Edney, who had been criticized for his
lack of leadership. ``I just tried to get in the lane and then
cause problems for them,'' Edney said. ``That's what I do best.''
As the jubilant Bruins filed off the floor, one of their growing
legion of celebrity fans, Jack Nicholson, walked off beside them.
Wandering through the tunnel, Nicholson looked Charles O'Bannon
straight in the eye and, doing his best Billy Tubbs, said, ``One
O'Bannon echoed that sentiment in the locker room. ``We know that
we aren't through yet,'' he said. ``This is a business trip. We're
here to win two games and then go home to our families.''
As UCLA looked ahead to its first national title game since 1980,
Bailey showed the mood of his team when he was asked to describe
his feelings about winning it all. Mimicking Zidek, he said in a
monotone, ``It is my dream.''
But later that evening -- as the Arkansas press was thoroughly
confounding North Carolina, holding the Tar Heels without a bucket
for more than 12 minutes -- it seemed that dream could be turning
ugly. Edney was at the hospital, having his right wrist placed in
a temporary cast, the result of that first-half spill. Suddenly it
was painfully clear that UCLA would have to confront the
Razorbacks' relentless pressure in the national title game without
their floor leader. Now that's scary, boy.