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NCAA TOURNAMENT

A Waltz Past Charleston

UCLA: Revved-up Bruins boldly take the lead and dominate the floor in a 109-75 victory.

March 14, 1997|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — In gear, under control, and roaring, the UCLA machine sounded an all-too-audible warning Thursday:

Find a way to slow the Bruins, or get flattened.

Without an answer for the Bruin battering ram, Charleston Southern got steamrollered and thunder-slammed, 109-75, in a first-round Midwest Regional game at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

As freezing rain coated the streets outside, Jelani McCoy started the Bruin storm with several quick power dunks, Cameron Dollar and J.R. Henderson kept it going, and, a year after getting upended by Princeton in the first round, the No. 2-seeded Bruins went flying into the NCAA tournament's second round Saturday against fast-paced No. 7 Xavier.

"People probably think, 'UCLA is supposed to beat them by 30, they're the 15 seed,' " said Charles O'Bannon, who scored 13 of his 14 points in the Bruins' blistering, 53-point first half.

"Our message is that we're bringing it every night--if you're going to play us, you better lace 'em up, because we're going to lace 'em up tight, and see who wins.

"We're playing with so much confidence in each other right now, we know it's going to be hard for someone to beat us."

The 109-point total was the most UCLA has scored in an NCAA tournament game since the 1974 Bruins put up 111 in a triple-overtime victory over Rutgers in the West Regional semifinals.

For the Bruins, who have won 10 in a row and are 22-7 overall, this was a rare chance for some free-flowing basketball, and a chance to relax in the second half after playing five consecutive tight games to close the regular season.

UCLA Coach Steve Lavin started pulling his regulars with 13:36 left to play, and emptied his bench with more than five minutes remaining.

"We don't get a lot of chances to run, especially in the Pac-10, where most of the teams pack it in against us," said Dollar, who had 15 points and four steals, raising his total to 77 and breaking Tyus Edney's two-year-old single-season UCLA steal mark.

"With all the athletes we've got, if you want to run with us, it's going to be tough for you."

Charleston Southern (17-13), the Big South champion, fell behind early, crept relatively close a couple of times in the first half on the back of Brett Larrick's huge game (32 points overall), but, after halftime, never got closer than 12 points before the deluge.

UCLA outrebounded the Buccaneers, 58-30.

It was the Bruins' biggest margin of victory this season, the game really never in doubt, and, for UCLA, a chance to rev the motor before some tougher times ahead.

"Even though we've been winning, we knew we could play better," said Toby Bailey, who had 14 points, a season-high nine rebounds and eight assists in 28 minutes. "We wanted to play 40 minutes, instead of letting down in the first 10 minutes and having to come back the rest of the game."

McCoy was most responsible for the Bruins' 11-0 bolt to start the game, scoring on a post move on the first possession, and slapping down two offensive-rebound put-back slams in the first nine minutes.

He tied a career high with 21 points--in only 24 minutes--and grabbed eight rebounds, five on the offensive boards.

"I knew when he got those slams, Jelani would show up tonight," said Henderson, who chipped in 21 points and nine rebounds. "When he's going like that, crashing the offensive glass, it just opens up lanes for everyone else.

"When he's having a bad game, they don't really have to guard him as much, and they can help on the rest of us."

With UCLA off to such a rolling start, Charleston Southern basically abandoned any thoughts of trying to slow it down.

"We dug ourselves a hole," Charleston Southern Coach Tom Conrad said. "You need to think you can play with these guys; if you don't, why show up? We made some runs at times, but we just didn't buckle down on defense."

UCLA made 22 of its 35 first-half shot attempts (62.9%) and outrebounded the Buccaneers, 26-18, with Henderson grabbing seven and O'Bannon six, then opened a 20-point lead with 15:07 left in the game.

Lavin and Dollar, though, thought the Bruins were going too fast in the early going, and threatening to scramble out of control.

"I was so pumped up and ready to play, I got out there and I was going so fast, I was like wild," Dollar said. "At halftime, I came into the locker room, and I could feel my heart beating so fast. I had to tell myself, 'All right, Dollar, calm down, get a hold of yourself.'

"I think we played more under control in the second half, and it showed."

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