SEATTLE — One by one, they calmly flicked in free throws as if taking practice in an empty gym, except each of these shots in the clamorous Kingdome edged UCLA closer to its first NCAA championship in 20 years.
It was vintage UCLA, a poised and talented team taking over in the final few minutes, going on a 12-0 surge and sweeping into the title game with a 74-61 victory Saturday over Oklahoma State.
Instead of Gail Goodrich or Walt Hazzard or Mike Warren, there was tiny Tyus Edney spinning toward the hoop, going around the giant arms of 7-foot Bryant (Big Country) Reeves, and scooping in a layup.
And instead of Bill Walton or Sidney Wicks, there was Cameron Dollar making a pair of free throws, and Charles O'Bannon another pair, and Edney two more, and George Zidek two after that, and finally Dollar closing it out with the last two.
And by then the Cowboys could do nothing but stand in awe, like the rest of the Kingdome crowd, of a UCLA team that is back where it once belonged year after year.
"Sometime this summer it will hit me that we're playing for the championship," UCLA Coach Jim Harrick said. 'It's a great feeling, from where I've come from to where I am now."
For seven years, with humor and grace, Harrick carried the burden of John Wooden's legacy--10 championships from 1964 to 1975--and now with a victory over Arkansas on Monday night, Harrick can shed himself of that weight. For the moment, he has the Bruins in their first title game since 1980, when a Larry Brown-coached squad lost to Louisville in the final.
Yet, for all their storied past and vaunted speed, the big-city Bruins struggled mightily before subduing the Cowboys from little Stillwater, Okla.
"I felt that if the game was close toward the end, we'd end up coming out victorious," Oklahoma State's Scott Pierce said. "There, at the end, the things that we relied upon, our defense and our shot selection, ended up failing us."
Oklahoma State was playing in its first Final Four since 1951. But with Reeves scoring 25 points and hauling down nine rebounds, the Cowboys threatened to win this game until UCLA went on its closing run.
UCLA, led by Edney's 21 points, Charles O'Bannon's 19 and Ed O'Bannon's 15, led only 62-61 with 2:44 left before Edney's driving scoop shot starting the winning run.
Edney, the littlest Bruin at 5-10, sparked the UCLA offense down the stretch with his quick penetrating moves.
"I thought I should be aggressive," he said. "Coach kept screaming, 'Go to the hole.' "
He went to the hole with authority and tremendous speed, earning praise from All-American Ed O'Bannon and all his other teammates.
"He's worked hard. He's played with injuries. He's carried the team for four years, and he's brought us to where we are today,' O'Bannon said.
Oklahoma State's Randy Rutherford heaved an airball on a three-point attempt that would have tied the score with 1:53 left. The Bruins, who had trailed by three points early in the second half and had seen an eight-point lead virtually vanish after that, finally had the breathing room they needed. They were fouled on almost every possession by the suddenly desperate Cowboys and scored the next 10 points on free throws to produce the final score.
Oklahoma State Coach Eddie Sutton said Edney "broke the defense down, and when we fouled down the stretch, they made them. He's a very, very good point guard, one of the best in college basketball. On film you can't tell how quick he is."
In an effort to contain Reeves, UCLA switched to a zone defense in the second half and surrounded the big man with Ed O'Bannon in front and 7-footer Zidek in back.
The strategy worked, as the Bruins held Reeves to seven points and four rebounds after intermission, including just two points in the final 9 1/2 minutes.
"I was a little surprised because I don't think Jim likes to play the zone any better than I do," Sutton said. 'They really shut off Bryant inside, so it was probably a good move on his part."
"Our defense in the second half was outstanding," Harrick said. "To keep them to 24 points and 32% shooting, that was the difference."
Reeves, a 292-pounder who shattered a backboard in practice Friday, threw his weight around underneath the boards against UCLA as he scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds in the 37-37 first half.
Reeves scored the Cowboys' last six points of the half and was perfect from the free-throw line in eight attempts. His rebounding led Oklahoma State to a 19-8 advantage on the boards in the half.
UCLA sought to run from the start and succeeded in setting the tempo early, building a 20-11 lead in the first 6 1/2 minutes after an 11-0 run. That burst featured two high-arching three-pointers by Ed O'Bannon, a three-point play by him, and a steal he made that led to a spinning, backward layup by Edney.
Ed O'Bannon wound up leading UCLA in the half with 11 points and four steals, while Edney scored 10 and handed out five assists.
Yet just as the Bruins seemed in control, Oklahoma State methodically worked its way back, not so much slowing the ball down as working it inside repeatedly to Reeves. The Bruins bounced off the big man, and he pumped in short jumpers and free throws to cut UCLA's lead to 24-23.
The Bruins, who had seven steals in the first half and scored 16 points after turnovers, then went on another 7-0 tear for a 31-23 lead. But a pair of three-pointers by Andre Owens and Terry Collins, plus the muscle of Reeves, sent the Cowboys into the second half with a tie and a real sense they could beat the No. 1 team.