SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With less than a minute to play, the game hanging in the balance, a national television audience and a capacity crowd of 11,418 wild Irish fans on their feet shouting for results, Notre Dame point guard David Rivers dribbled the length of the court, blew past freshman Gerald Madkins and put the Irish up by four with a short jump shot.
"Vintage David Rivers," Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps called it.
UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard said: "He's a fourth-year player. He's an All-America candidate. He's supposed to do the things he does. When he made that coast-to-coast play, that's what you expect."
UCLA's answer to David Rivers, junior Pooh Richardson, brought the ball up the court for the Bruins, gave it to sophomore forward Trevor Wilson and watched Wilson travel in the lane as he powered toward the basket.
The violation gave the ball back to the Irish with 35 seconds to play. That meant the Bruins had to do some quick fouling to get the ball back.
Notre Dame sank all six free throws down the stretch, running up a 10-point lead before Richardson beat the buzzer with a three-pointer that left Notre Dame with a 73-66 victory.
Notre Dame made 21 of 24 free throws in the game. UCLA made 7 of 11.
Before adding that, "I'm not going to complain about the officials like Digger did last year (at Pauley Pavilion)," Hazzard said. "They (Notre Dame) shot 23 free throws in the second half to our 6, but we expected that coming in."
He didn't mention that Notre Dame shot only one free throw in the first half. But at least he allowed that the loss was not only attributable to the officials, saying, "It was a good effort by our team. We had the opportunities to take the win. . . . We missed some layups and had some critical turnovers that hurt us. They also put the free throws down."
Irish forward Gary Voce made both ends of a one-and-one with 33 seconds to play. Center Scott Paddock made both ends of his one-and-one with 20 seconds to play. Forward Joe Fredrick made both ends of his one-and-one with five seconds to play.
Notre Dame's record improved to 14-7. UCLA dropped back under .500 at 11-12.
And the question was--what will this game mean at National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament bid time?
Rivers said: "We needed this game very badly. Despite UCLA's record, they carry a lot of credibility. This makes the chances of us getting an NCAA bid a little brighter."
Phelps didn't want to speculate on Notre Dame's chances for a bid this early. He's still preaching the virtues of taking care of business one game at a time.
But he did venture to speculate on the Bruins' chances, saying, "When they get into the Pac-10 tournament, it wouldn't surprise me to see them in the final against Arizona. Based on their strength of schedule and the way they've been coming on lately, I think they could get a bid."
Seven of UCLA's losses have been to teams that are likely to make the tournament: Temple, St. John's, Louisville, North Carolina, Arizona, Brigham Young and, let's say, Notre Dame.
If the Bruins don't go to the NCAA tournament this season, it will be the fourth time in the last five seasons they have been left out.
Hazzard is holding out hope, but he figures a bid would have to be earned through the conference finish and conference tournament.
With six regular-season games left and a maximum of three games in the Pac-10 tournament, the Bruins are not likely to dazzle anyone with their overall record.
"This would have been a good win for us, but we're more concerned about our conference competition," Hazzard said. "We have the Arizona schools coming in this week (Arizona State on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday), and we need those games to get in position for our Pac-10 tournament."
UCLA is tied for third place in the conference, with Oregon State, at 7-5. Arizona is 12-1 and Stanford is 8-5.
One of the reasons Hazzard did not push forward-center Kevin Walker to play on a healing sprained ankle Sunday afternoon was to save him for those conference games.
Hazzard said that the Bruins missed Walker.
Phelps missed him, too. Not longingly, though. He just wondered what became of him. "I've been telling people all week, you won't believe what this kid can do. . . . His three-point shooting gives them a special dimension," Phelps said. "He's 6-10 and he's shooting 50% from the three-point range. That's a pretty good weapon."
But that weapon didn't fire. It stayed on the bench.
The Bruins leaned, once again, on Wilson, who finished with 15 points; and guard Dave Immel, who had 13; and Richardson, who had 13.
Wilson had 13 in the first half and then was shut down.
Said Phelps: "We knew where he was going, against man-to-man and against our matchup zone. (Mark) Stevenson just did a better job on him." Stevenson, coming back from a disciplinary suspension, started the second half.