SEATTLE — Though the lanes were closed and the game was played with a cautious style that did not suit mad dashes and 5-foot-10 flashes, Tyus Edney found a way for UCLA, again.
Though Oklahoma State kept the pace to a crawl Saturday and kept Edney and the Bruins pinned into a walk-it-up game, at the end, all that mattered was that Edney, through five NCAA tournament victories, still has not come across a team that can stop him, either in a footrace or at a snail's pace.
This time, all he did was spin around, duck under 7-footers, and kiss almost everything he threw up off the backboard and into the net, scoring a team-high 21 points and bringing the Bruins from the brink of defeat to the doorstep of a national championship.
In a game that traded the grace and ballet of other UCLA moments for blue-collar muscle and coaching tactics, the Bruins' defense and Edney's drives to the hoop led them past the Cowboys, 74-61, before 38,540 at the Kingdome.
Monday night, UCLA (30-2), one victory away from its first title since 1975, meets defending champion Arkansas, which defeated North Carolina, 75-68.
But with the physical, fundamentally sound Cowboys charging to within one point and the weight of the rally seeming to fall heavy on the Bruins, nothing was certain.
"They were like a fly buzzing around your ear, bothering you, and you just can't get rid of it," freshman J.R. Henderson said. "We couldn't get rid of them.
"Then I think we just figured out we had to kill these guys, and Tyus, he kind of twisted the knife."
On four consecutive Bruin possessions, beginning with 3:30 left in the game, Edney bolted past Cowboy point guard Andre Owens and into the lane.
Twice, Edney eluded 292-pound center Bryant (Big Country) Reeves for twisting layups; once, he drew a foul and made the two free throws; and once, he dropped a pass off to guard Cameron Dollar, who made his two free throws after drawing a foul.
"I think (Edney) was pretty much just improvising that stuff," said senior forward Ed O'Bannon, who scored 15 points and took down a team-high eight rebounds.
Dollar's free throws pumped up the UCLA lead to five, 66-61. At the same time, the Bruin defense rose up and held the Cowboys without a point for the final 2:35 of the game, including a crucial Dollar steal of a Reeves pass with 1:23 left and UCLA ahead, 64-61.
"That kind of broke them," Dollar said. "That's what I look to do out there."
In the second half, after a 37-37 halftime tie, UCLA, playing significant amounts of zone for the first time in weeks, held Oklahoma State (27-10) to 24 points--on 32.1% shooting.
"I thought our defense was outstanding and really was the key," said Coach Jim Harrick, who went to the 2-3 zone when 7-0 center George Zidek and then 6-9 Henderson got in early foul trouble and stayed in it as Reeves struggled to find an open seam in the middle.
Cowboy guard Randy Rutherford, usually a dependable zone-buster and late-game hot hand, never warmed up, winding up his Oklahoma State career with a four-for-13 shooting performance and game-high five turnovers.
"When you get past Rutherford, we are not a very good perimeter shooting team," Oklahoma State Coach Eddie Sutton said. "I was a little surprised because I don't think Jim would like to play zone any more than I do, but I think it was probably good on his part.
"They got to protect their big guys and they really shut off Bryant inside."
For the Bruins, who relish a fast-pace game but bristle at the thought that they are unable to play at a controlled tempo, Saturday was about displaying precision, patience and poise.
Down the stretch, in pressure time, UCLA made 16 of its last 17 free throws, pulling away when the Cowboys were forced to foul.
With freshman standouts Henderson and Bailey looking out of sync in the slowdown pace (two points each), forward Charles O'Bannon, who is considered a superb fast-break finisher but a sometimes unreliable presence in a half-court offense, was the Bruins' most consistent scorer other than Edney.
Charles O'Bannon made seven of his nine shots, scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds in 37 minutes.
"Nobody gives us credit," said O'Bannon, who was on the bench during the last minutes of UCLA's victory over Connecticut to win the West Regional. "Everybody thinks we're just a run-and-gun team that runs down court and just fires it up there."
Said Henderson of O'Bannon: "I could just sense he was ready, and he was just about due, anyway. You could tell by the look in his face."
In the first half, UCLA edged out to a nine-point lead, 20-11, with 13:30 left, after Edney capped an 11-0 run with a twirling, over-the-shoulder scoop layup as he maneuvered around 6-5 Chianti Roberts.
"(That shot) threw me for a loop," Ed O'Bannon said. "It was great shot."
Early, Reeves' dominance (18 points in the first 20 minutes) was canceled out by his teammates' sloppy play (14 first-half turnovers).