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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENTS : Weak Points Exposed : UCLA: Tulsa immediately exploited problems that turned the Bruins from a 14-0 team into a 7-7 one.

March 20, 1994|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OKLAHOMA CITY — After they turned off the television lights that were shining in his face Friday in the loser's locker room, Ed O'Bannon of UCLA hesitated slightly when he heard the question.

How did he think the Bruins were going to play against Tulsa?

"I had no idea, to be honest," O'Bannon said.

Let the record show that nobody else did, either. The once-proud Bruins were totally out of their league against Tulsa, regular-season champion of the Missouri Valley Conference, in the first round of the Midwest Regional.

In fact, Tulsa's 112-102 victory over the No. 17-ranked Bruins might be UCLA's worst NCAA tournament defeat.

It was the Bruins' second opening-game defeat since 1983, when UCLA was dumped by Utah, 67-61. Penn State upset the Bruins, 74-69, in the first round in 1991.

But neither the 1983 team nor the 1991 team had been 14-0 and ranked No. 1.

Before 1981, the last time UCLA lost its opening game in the tournament was in 1956, when Bill Russell scored 21 points in a San Francisco victory.

Add it all up, and losing to a 12th-seeded team, trailing by 46-17 at one point, does not end a season on an upbeat note.

The Bruins finished 21-7 and 13-5 in the Pacific 10 Conference, tied for second with California.

But losing to Tulsa?

"It's huge," O'Bannon said. "The expectations were huge, too. We tried not to worry about that. But I think our biggest problem was we played not to lose instead of to win."

Was the season a washout?

"We did some good things," he said. "Next year, hopefully we can do a little more."

O'Bannon has indicated he will be back at UCLA for his senior season, which means the only key players the Bruins will lose are 6-foot-6 shooting guard Shon Tarver and 6-9 backup center Rodney Zimmerman.

The Bruins have four key recruits coming in, including 6-11 center omm'A Givens, 6-9 J.R. Henderson, 6-4 Kris Johnson and 6-4 Toby Bailey.

But that's next season. This one can be traced to failures that never were corrected:

--The Bruins were exposed as poor outside shooters, which made them vulnerable to zone defenses and enabled opponents to double-team UCLA's low post players.

--UCLA did not play well in a half-court offense.

--Defensively, UCLA did not get enough easy baskets on steals, rarely pressed and could be beaten back downcourt by a quick team.

Tulsa exploited UCLA's weaknesses from the opening tipoff. The fallout probably will come to rest on Coach Jim Harrick, who expects it.

"The players always win the games, the coach always loses the games," he said. "That's the way things go."

Harrick, who likes to point out the 20-victory seasons and NCAA tournament appearances in each of his six years at UCLA, said his record speaks for itself.

"How big can you win, and how big are we going to need to win and can you survive without going to the Final Four?" Harrick said. "You will always be judged in Los Angeles unless you do."

Although it is difficult to judge their numbers, the critics are always there, including many at Pauley Pavilion. Harrick will acknowledge only "a few" alumni who don't like him.

Maybe so, but after the Louisville game, his postgame news conference was held near the UCLA locker room to prevent a repeat of what happened at the end of the Cal game when he was derided as he walked across the court to an interview room at the other end of his own home court.

Harrick said the loss to Tulsa did not damage his program and that the foundation for success is in place. He also would not say that a first-round defeat makes UCLA's season a failure.

"A tremendous disappointment, that's what it makes it," he said.

The Harrick Era

A look at how UCLA has fared under Coach Jim Harrick, including season overall record and Pac-10 finish, followed by NCAA tournament results:

Year Record Pac-10 1988-89 21-10 Third (tie) 1989-90 22-11 Fourth 1990-91 23-9 Second 1991-92 28-5 First 1992-93 22-11 Third (tie) 1993-94 21-7 Second (tie) Totals 158-53

NCAA TOURNAMENT

* 1988--89: Eliminated in second round by North Carolina, 88-81

* 1989-90: Eliminated in East Regional semifinals by Duke, 90-81

* 1990-91: Eliminated in first round by Penn State, 74-69

* 1991-92: Eliminated in West Regional final by Indiana, 106-79

* 1992-93: Eliminated in second round by Michigan, 86-84, in overtime

* 1993-94: Eliminated in first round by Tulsa, 112-102

Overall Tournament Record: 7-6

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