Back On Top
Two decades and five head coaches after its last NCAA title, UCLA finally wins its first championship of the post-Wooden era.
That's how it was at UCLA after John Wooden retired in 1975. First there was Gene Bartow. Then Gary Cunningham. Then Larry Brown. Then Larry Farmer. The Walt Hazzard. Trapped deep in the shadows of Wooden's 10 national championship banners, none of them lasted longer than four seasons at Westwood. Three of them lasted just half that time. Then came Jim Harrick. By UCLA standards, he was an outsider. Hired away from Pepperdine in 1988, Harrick wasn't even the school's first choice. Or second. Or, depending on the source, not even the third.
Harrick won games, but he didn't win admirers. His critics said he couldn't recruit, couldn't coach and couldn't keep his mouth shut. In other words, he wasn't John Wooden Jr.
In 1992, the same season Harrick insisted he deserved a similar salary as, among others, Bob Knight, Indiana humiliated UCLA by nearly 30 points in the NCAA tournament. In 1993, Michigan eliminated the Bruins in the second round. A year later, Tulsa shocked UCLA in the first round.
Only UCLA chancellor Charles Young and athletic director Peter Dalis will ever know for sure how close Harrick came to receiving a pink slip. But this much is certain: another first-round loss in 1995 and Harrick would be exploring the exciting world of aluminum siding sales.
Instead, Harrick and the Bruins, who entered the NCAAs ranked No. 1 in the country, not only won their first game of the tournament, but their second, their third, their fourth, their fifth, and then, against the defending national champion Arkansas Razorbacks, their sixth. Suddenly, Harrick had his own legacy and UCLA had another banner to hang next to the 10 faded reminders of the Wooden years.
Wooden, no 84, was in Seattle the night of April 3 when the Bruins defied Arkansas and logic. Seated 30 or so away from the Kingdome court, Wooden watched calmly as the Bruins defeated the Razorbacks, 89-78. But afterward, he admitted that he too had his doubts about UCLA's chances.
“To be honest, I didn't think they could win it without [Tyus] Edney,” Wooden said. “He makes that team run.”
Magical seasons don't come about without a few miracles. And for the Bruins it was Edney, the 5-foot-10, senior point guard, who provided the magic in two of the most memorable games of the tournament.
Miracle No. 1 (West Regional, second round): With only 4.8 seconds separating the top-seeded Bruins from another early round exit, Edney takes the inbounds pass against No. 8 seed Missouri, weaves hi way through the Tigers' ill-conceived defense, smooches the ball off the smudged glass and then watches as the shot falls through the net for a 75-74 victory.
It was a play the Bruins had frequently tried in practice, based on Harrick's vivid recollection of Jerry West going the length of the floor in three seconds for a basket against the Celtics in Game 3 of the 1962 NBA Finals.
“This is a crazy business,” said Harrick in a hallway outside the UCLA locker room. “One point makes all the difference. The whole state of Missouri is down tonight because its team lost by one point.”
“I know if we had lost…well, I don't want to answer that.”
Miracle No. 2 (Final Four, championship game): After spraining his right wrist in the 74-61 semifinal win against Oklahoma State, Edney missed Sunday's practice and was considered iffy for the final. During warm-ups he took one shot- a five-foot airball- and then returned to the Bruin bench.
“Can you play?” asked Harrick.
“It's going to be a long night,” Edney replied. “I don't think I can play, but I'll give it a shot.”
Edney started the game, but he was useless. He couldn't dribble. He couldn't pass. He couldn't shoot. He couldn't be what UCLA needed most. He couldn't be Tyus.
He lasted two minutes and 37 seconds.
And that's when the miracle happened. Reduced to a six-man rotation against the deep roster of Arkansas, the Bruins played as if it were nothing to lose your starting point guard minutes before tip-off. They inserted defensive specialist Cameron Dollar in Edney's place, hoped for the best…and got it.
Senior forward Ed O'Bannon, who plays with a dead man's ligament in his surgically repaired left knee, scored 30 points, had 17 rebounds, three steals, three assists and never left the floor. When the game was over he was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Freshman off-guard Toby Bailey scored 26 and had nine rebounds. Senior center George Zidek scored 14, but even more important, helped limit Arkansas All-American Corliss Williamson to a dreadful three-of-16 from the field.
In the end, Arkansas had more players, but UCLA had more heart.
“We don't have a Walton, we don't have an Alcindor, we don't have a Goodrich, and tonight, we didn't have an Edney,” Charles O'Bannon said. “But we have a team of guys with big hearts and a lot of faith. We know we'd be successful.”
Standing on the makeshift stage used to present the NCAA championship trophy, Ed O'Bannon was handed a microphone.
“Yo!” O'Bannon yelled to the Kingdome audience of 38,540 fans. “I want you to hear this. This is the real MVP. Give it up for Tyus. He got us here. That's the man. That's the real MVP.”
Watching from a few feet away was Harrick. At last he had his national title. And for the first time since Wooden left 20 years earlier, a Bruin coach had his own identity.
“Sometimes these things work in your favor,” he said, remembering the failures of the past. “Our players deserve a lot of credit, but I'd like to give emotion or divine intervention a little credit, too.”
While regular season losses to Pac-10 rivals Oregon and California kept UCLA (31-2) from going undefeated, women's national champion Connecticut, led by consensus Player of the Year Rebecca Lobo, went 35-0 and beat Tennessee 70-64 to win its first title.
Arkansas returned to defend its men's championship after reaching the Final Four for the third time in six seasons. Despite a handful of regular season upsets and a 95-93 overtime loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament final, the Razorbacks won 32 games overall. Their most bizarre win was a 96-94 overtime escape against Syracuse in the second round of the NCAAs, made possible in the last 4.3 seconds of regulation when Lawrence Moten of the Orangemen received a technical foul for calling a timeout he didn't have with Syracuse ahead 82-81.
As usual, there were rumors about Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson jumping to the NBA. Also as usual, he stayed put. Smart move. The Razorbacks has one of the best recruiting classes of 1995. Of course, with juniors Williamson and Scotty Thurman leaving early for the pros, Richardson will need all the help he can get.
Also back in the Final Four was North Carolina, which last won the national title in 1993. The Tar Heels (28-6) were ranked No. 1 for six weeks during the regular season and featured two gifted sophomores, swingman Jerry Stackhouse and center Rasheed Wallace. With coach Dean Smith's blessings, both Stackhouse and Wallace made themselves available for the NBA draft at season's end.
Thanks to the backboard-breaking Bryant (Big Country) Reeves and the sometimes under-appreciated efforts of coach Eddie Sutton, Oklahoma State found itself among the elite for the first time since 1951.
All told, the four coaches had taken teams to a combined 65 NCAA tournaments and the four contending schools had reached the Final Four a total of 38 times.
As always, the tournament included its share of shockers, beginning with the decision by the Men's Basketball Committee to ignore Georgia Tech, Iowa, George Washington and New Mexico State– all programs with 18 or more victories. A miffed Bobby Cremins questioned the committee's logic and later turned down an invitation to play in the NIT, the first time that's happened since 1987.
Once the tournament began, there were assorted scoreboard double takes. Arizona lost in the first round for the third time in four seasons. No. 13 seed Manhattan beat No. 4 seed Oklahoma. No. 14 seed Old Dominion defeated No 3 seed Villanova in triple overtime. And Arkansas barely beat No. 15 seed Texas Southern.
However, nothing compared to the belly flop of the Big Ten conference. Of the six teams invited, only Purdue reached the second round. The most notable victim was Jud Heathcote's Michigan State team, which had been seeded third in the Southeast region. The loss ended Heathcote's 24-year coaching career, 19 of them at East Lansing. He left with 417 victories and one national championship-won in 1979 with Magic Johnson.
The tournament's most heartwarming story involved Mount St. Mary's and its coach Jim Phelan of the little-regarded Northeast conference. In 40 years at the school Phelan had won 720 games (second only to Carolina's Smith), but had never been to the Division I tournament. Finally, in 1994-95 the Mountaineers won 17 games and earned the conference's automatic bid. Phelan and his team enjoyed every second of their brief appearance, even if it did include a 113-67 dusting by No. 1 seed Kentucky in the Southeast Regional.
In victory, UCLA joined the 1982 North Carolina club and the 1992 Duke squad as the only teams in the last 17 years to enter the tournament ranked No. 1 in the country and emerge as champions.
Six different teams held the AP No. 1 ranking during the 17-week regular season that stretched from Nov. 22 to March 13: Arkansas (week 1), Massachusetts (week 2 and weeks 8-11), North Carolina (weeks 3-7 and week 12), Connecticut (week 13), Kansas (week 14) and UCLA (weeks 15-17). UConn's one week at the top from Feb. 13-19 marked the first time that the same school had the No. 1 men's and women's teams in the country.
There are other stories to tell, including the dizzying fall of Rollie Massimino at Nevada-Las Vegas. Massimino was done in partly by his own greed and by UNLV's Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight-former school president Robert Maxson, former legal counsel Brad Booke and athletic director Jim Weaver.
It was Maxson, Booke and Weaver who helped arrange a secret supplemental contract for Massimino that added another $375,000 annually to a Board of Regents-approved $511,000 deal. The supplemental contract didn't stay secret for long and Massimino immediately found himself at the center of a major controversy.
After initially saying he planned to fulfill the remainder of his original contract, which ran through the 1996-97 season, Massimino instructed his lawyers to negotiate a settlement with the school and resigned less than a month before the start of the season. Former UNLV assistant coach Tim Grgurich was hired to succeed Massimino.
Meanwhile, Indiana coach Bob Knight added to his list of temper tantrum incidents. This time he tore into a volunteer news conference moderator named Rance Pugmire with an obscenity-peppered tirade after the Hoosiers' 65-60 loss to Missouri in the opening round of the tournament. The Men's Basketball Committee publicly reprimanded Knight on June 13, fining I.U. a record $30,000 (which will be deducted from its share of NCAA basketball revenue) and recommending that future outbursts by Knight in the tournament result in a suspension of one or more games.
Knight issued a reprimand of his own then next day, proposing an eight-year “purity plan” that would require the nine-member committee to be without sin in the eyes of the NCAA. In other words, if your school broke any NCAA rules during your watch, you're off the committee.
“I even have a suggested name for the rule: the John 8:7 Rule, which I have slightly paraphrased to read, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first reprimand,'” said Knight in his statement.
Also reprimanded for unprofessional behavior during the tournament was Memphis coach Larry Finch, whose school was fined a mere $2,500. Finch criticized the officiating after the Tigers were beaten by Arkansas in the Midwest region semifinals.
Meanwhile, North Carolina's Smith and Clemson's Rick Barnes didn't exactly do themselves proud in the ACC tournament. Near the end of their quarterfinal game, Smith and Barnes had to be separated at midcourt after a nose-to-nose argument about a hard foul called against Clemson. ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan called the incident a “sorry spectacle” and fined each coach $2,500, payable to the charity of their choice.
Also notable on the sidelines was the absence of several high-profile coaches who either resigned or missed more than a few games because of health and stress-related reasons. Among the missing were George Raveling of Southern Cal, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Gary Williams of Maryland and Grgurich of UNLV (see sidebar).
Grgurich's old boss at Las Vegas, Jerry Tarkanian, made his unexpected return to the college ranks on April 5 when he took the reins at Fresno State. Tarkanian, the winningest coach by percentage in NCAA history (.837), had been in self-imposed retirement after a failed 20-game fling with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs in 1992.
Whenever he was asked about a possible comeback, Tark would say he missed the players, the assistants and the practices, but not the games. “Too much pressure,” he said. It wasn't until Gary Colson resigned at Fresno State that the 64-year-old Tarkanian decided he wanted one more chance.
“I wasn't really [looking],” he said, “But Fresno is like my old town. It's my alma mater. They've got the best fans in the country, them and Kentucky.”
There were 40 candidates for the Bulldogs' job, one of 36 that opened up during the offseason, but Tarkanian was the only one to receive an on-campus interview. Under heavy pressure from alums and fans, Fresno State president John Welty and athletic director Gary Cunningham offered Tarkanian a three-year package worth a reported $600,000. To ease the fears of those faculty members who were quick to remind Welty of Tarkanian's history with the NCAA enforcement office, the school also hired a compliance officer and inserted the standard contract clause about adhering to NCAA rules.
“Everybody knows [NCAA officials] were picking on me,” Tarkanian said. “But that's over with. It shouldn't have any effect on what I'm doing here.”
Ed O'Bannon shared Player of the Year honors with senior guard Shawn Respert of Michigan State and sophomore forward Joe Smith of Maryland. They were joined on the first team of the consensus All-American squad by Stackhouse of North Carolina and senior guard Damon Stoudamire of Arizona.
O'Bannon, whose knee problems scared off some NBA teams, was chosen ninth by the New Jersey Nets. The 10th pick, by Miami, was TCU center Kurt Thomas, who became only the third player to lead the NCAA in both scoring and rebounding with per game averages of 28.9 points and 14.6 boards in 1994-94.
Finally, there was one more controversy. During an Atlantic 10 conference game between UMass and Rutgers at Piscataway, N.J., on Feb. 7, more than 150 protesters conducted a sit-in to draw national attention to racially insensitive remarks made by Rutgers president Francis Lawrence three months earlier. In short, Lawrence suggested that African-Americans lacked the “genetic and hereditary background” to score well on college admissions tests.
Oops. Lawrence later apologized for the remarks and found an ally in Temple coach John Chaney, a longtime spokesperson for the Black Coaches Association.
“I know that everybody make mistakes,” said Chaney. “Mr. Lawrence made a mistake. All of us make mistakes, but I also know the man has make great contributions to education, to Rutgers, to diversity, and I'm willing to go on.”
The UMass-Rutgers game was eventually completed on March 3 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The Minutemen won, 77-62, before 445 onlookers.