UCLA's tale one of force, not fate

Somewhere in Missouri they are wondering why.

Why they weren't there in Seattle playing in the NCAA Tournament final Monday night.

Why they couldn't have just held on for 4.8 more seconds against UCLA last month.

Why, at the end of that game, someone couldn't have just gotten in Tyus Edney's way.

Could have, would have, should have.

These are over-used phrases when it comes to tournament time. Think back to the second round of the tournament. The Tigers held a 74-73 edge over the Bruins with only 4.8 seconds remaining, and were already dreaming of the Sweet 16 and higher hopes.

But Edney was there. He covered the length of the court in a flash and laid the ball in to save the Bruins from defeat.

UCLA's close brush with tournament elimination seemed to propel it into the finals there was no turning back.

Still, Monday's game was to be a show. It was the Bruins' chance to show the rest of the country that West coast basketball deserved respect. This team was ready.

The Bruins held off pesky Oklahoma State Saturday night and were ready and waiting for Arkansas.

But something happened on the way to the Big Dance. Unbeknownst to many and barely mentioned in the press was the fact that the Bruin point guard had hurt his hand with about 10 minutes left in the game.

No big deal.

He had two days to recover.

And everything looked all right Monday night, Tyus Edney started the biggest game of his life. But it was not to be. Three minutes into Monday night's championship game against the Razorbacks, Edney left the game, never to return.

How ironic it was that the man who had led the Bruins to the title game had to watch 92.5 percent of it from the bench. The man who was the divine savior in the face of certain defeat was finished, unable to shoot or dribble. Without its top point guard, UCLA looked as though it was finished.

But there was an

obstruction on the road to Arkansas' second straight title. Something that only fairy tales are made of.

Two young kids, one a sophomore and the other a freshman, stepped up to the mighty Hogs, President Clinton and all, and said: "Not again. This is our title and we're not leaving without it."

It was, and they didn't.

Sophomore Cameron Dollar and freshman Toby Bailey surprised the country with their performances in the title game. Dollar, filling in for Edney, didn't miss a step, slashing and passing like Edney himself.

Bailey, with 26 points, played like a senior out there, hitting big baskets when the Bruins desperately needed them all night.

Arkansas played relentlessly in the second half. They were going to win. There was no way the Bruins could stand up to the Hogs' constant pressure, especially with these young guys on the court.

But there was Bailey.

With about 4 1/2 minutes left in the game and Arkansas within six points, Ed O'Bannon pulled up in the lane and took about an eight-foot jump shot. All Arkansas had to do was grab the rebound and it was still in the game. But Bailey, lifted by God himself, jumped about 12 feet above the court and dunked the ball home.

The Razorbacks seemed done, but you knew they weren't.

They kept up the pressure and they were in the game.

But Dollar was there to take them out of it.

He stole the ball with about a minute to go and laid it in, sealing the Hogs' fate as runners-up.

A magical and improbable finish for a team playing its biggest game of the year without one of their best players. UCLA could have easily laid down. If it lost it could have blamed fate. But the Bruins didn't and they brought the NCAA title back to the Pacific 10 Conference for the first time since they had last won it, in 1975.

It is fitting, though, that the number of NCAA titles UCLA racked up, now 11, also matches the number of their injured hero.

No. 11 Tyus Edney.

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