SEATTLE — It will be UCLA versus the national champions for the national championship. How perfectly everything worked out, the No. 1-ranked college basketball team in America having to play last season's school that ruled, Arkansas, for the NCAA tournament title here Monday night.
If they can play anything like the way they played Saturday in defeating Oklahoma State, 74-61, another championship can belong to the Bruins, who have been here before. They have a little guard named Tyus Edney, a lot of talent and a lot of heart, and this just might be enough.
The last few minutes at the Kingdome, their play was worthy of kings.
"Take him, Tyus! Take him!" UCLA's coaches and players were yelling in unison, 3 1/2 minutes away from playing for the championship. And although Edney couldn't hear, he took the Oklahoma State man guarding him anyway, flitting past him like a grasshopper, then springing toward the hoop. He gave UCLA four points of breathing room, 60-56.
The response was immediate from Big Country Reeves, the 7-foot manchild at center for the opponents, who squeezed a behind-the-back feed from Scott Pierce in his huge mitts like a grapefruit and gently dropped it through the rim. But again the Bruins on the bench began urging, "Take him, Tyus! Take him!" and now, three minutes away from playing for the national championship, Edney attacks, is fouled by Pierce and sinks both free throws. UCLA, 62-58.
Noise reverberates from the walls of the Kingdome. UCLA's fans can sense the prize is theirs, but abruptly back come the Oklahomans, thrilled momentarily by Randy Rutherford's three-point rainbow from deep in the corner. Two minutes 35 seconds away from playing for the national championship, UCLA's edge is down to a single point, 62-61.
The suspense is a killer. Can the No. 1-ranked college basketball team in America hang on, make it to Monday night? Or will everything this team has worked for, morning, noon and night, disappear over the course of a couple of minutes on a Saturday afternoon in Seattle, just like that?
No, it will not.
Although Charles O'Bannon cannot see an Oklahoma State player waiting in ambush and tramples him to the floor, no foul is called, and Charles, stumbling over him, dumps the ball off to Edney, who again storms the basket. Up he goes, around and under Big Country. Two minutes nine seconds away from playing for the national championship, it is now UCLA, 64-61, and the Cowboys are headed for the last roundup.
They will not score another point. Oklahoma State will go O-for-rest-of-game. Big Country is dog tired. Rutherford is so exhausted, he lofts a weak attempt from the baseline that misses everything. Ed O'Bannon rips it out of the air.
The Bruins are so close now. Edney begins stalling the ball, dribbling it at a standstill, no longer in any hurry. His eyes are looking two feet \o7 above\f7 the basket now, studying the 35-second shot clock, letting it tick down. With another dart, he draws a crowd, then dishes to Cameron Dollar, who gets hacked in the act. Ninety-two seconds from playing for the national championship, Dollar's two free throws touch nothing but net. UCLA, 66-61.
Leaping to his feet, Coach Jim Harrick lifts both of his arms like a football referee signaling a touchdown. Hands-up defense is what he wants, and it is what he gets, Dollar alertly intercepting a pass. The ball is flipped to a leaping Charles O'Bannon, who is fouled. He shoots two free throws, nothing but net. One minute away now. UCLA, 68-61.
Forty-six seconds, and it is Edney's duty to do some free-throw shooting. Nothing but net. Thirty-seven seconds, and it is George Zidek's turn. Nothing but net. Half a minute, and it's Dollar's. NBN. Nothing left to do now but let Kevin Dempsey, Ike Nwankwo, omm'A Givens, Bob Myers and Kris Johnson up from the bench and in on the fun.
"Final Four! Final Four!" the musicians in UCLA's band are still chanting, between notes on their horns. They need to change the lyrics now. Final two.
Everything has gone the Bruins' way. They will win this game by 13 points as though it was never in doubt. They will impress everyone with a relentless defense, one that causes an Oklahoma State turnover nearly every two minutes. And they will reveal yet another monster move by Edney, an eyes-in-the-back- of-his-head beauty.
They also will do what the great teams do--adapt, with a zone defense that their coach resorts to only in dire straits.
As the victorious Bruins leave the arena, Pete Dalis, the UCLA athletic director, pulls aside a friend and says: "Let's hear them say now that Jim Harrick can't coach. He goes to that zone, sticks Ed O'Bannon in the middle and that game is over."