Wizardry returned to Westwood Monday night.
Twenty years after John Wooden, the legendary Wizard of Westwood, led UCLA to its 10th national championship, the Bruins returned to the top of the college basketball world.With senior forward Ed O'Bannon scoring 30 points and freshman guard Toby Bailey scoring 26, UCLA defeated Arkansas 89-78 for the NCAA title and removed the stigma of trying to live up to all that Wooden accomplished.
How fitting that it should happen in a town known as the Emerald City with the 84-year-old Wooden in attendance, cheering for friend Jim Harrick, the Bruins' coach. And considering the Bruins won with star senior point guard Tyus Edney on the bench for nearly the entire game with a wrist injury, the performance truly was magical.
"Sometimes those things work in your favor, but I wouldn't give emotion or divine intervention credit, I'd give credit to our players," said Harrick. "This is one of the finest conditioned basketball teams ever. They could play two now if you wanted."
For Harrick, who has spent seven years under the long shadow cast by Wooden, the victory was particularly sweet.
"For any coach anywhere, this is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream," said Harrick. "And in your professional career, it's the pinnacle. And this is the pinnacle."
Said Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, denied a chance to repeat as national champ, "The best team won tonight."
But perhaps the biggest trick of the night was played on Arkansas forward Corliss Williamson. The MVP of last year's Final Four, Williamson was pounded inside by 7-0 Bruin George Zidek. He made just three of 16 shots to finish with 12 points and effectively neutralize the absence of Edney. Teammate Scotty Thurman made only two of nine attempts for five points.
For the 31-2 Bruins, it was left to Bailey to pick up his offense after a lackluster two-point performance in the semifinals against Oklahoma State. The 6-5 guard scored every way imaginable - dunks, layups, short jumpers and 3-pointers. He even added nine rebounds.
"He played above the rim," marveled Richardson.
And he played without being intimidated by the setting.
"This is exactly the kind of game I wanted to play," Bailey said. "I wasn't nervous at all. I think they might have overlooked me after the way I played against Oklahoma State.
"I wanted to make a point."
O'Bannon added 17 rebounds and was named Final Four MVP. Sophomore Cameron Dollar, who played point for Edney, made just three turnovers - none in the second half - against the Razorbacks' vaunted pressure defense.
UCLA also dominated the boards with 21 offensive rebounds and 50 total. Arkansas managed just 31 rebounds.
The Bruins finished the season winning 19 straight games.
Senior Clinton McDaniel led Arkansas (32-7) with 16 points.
Harrick figured before the game Edney couldn't play but started him anyway "to see if adrenalin would take over." It didn't. He lasted less than three minutes.
Instead. Ed O'Bannon and Bailey took over on offense. And on defense, the Bruins collapsed their 2-3 zone on Williamson with brutal precision, shutting off the middle to the Razorback star.
McDaniel's outside shooting brought back Arkansas, which trailed 40-39 at the half. Williamson scored just one foul shot in the final 16:10 of the half. If he had exploded in the second as he did with 19 points against North Carolina on Saturday, the game would have been different. Instead, he ran his string of missed shots to 12 before finally scoring on a layup at 2:25. By then, it hardly mattered. A drive by Bailey put UCLA ahead by 10 with 1:39 left.
"Tonight was not Corliss' night," said Richardson. "This is one game I think Corliss wished would never have happened."
Added a despondent Williamson, "I got too caught up in the physical play. I was trying to be a power player instead of an all-around player."
Arkansas, known for making runs in crucial situations, never managed to make one happen. In a strange twist of fate, Richardson admitted his team might have been tired. Usually, the Hogs and their "40 minutes of hell" wear down opponents. Offenses are disrupted, shots missed and turnovers made. Then the Hogs explode.
Not this night.
"We looked like we were in mud most of the night," admitted Richardson.
For a team that uses a 10-man rotation, that seemed quite an admission. What made it particularly crucial is that with Edney out, UCLA was basically down to six players.
But in the second half, it was the Bruins running the fast break. It was Bailey making a gutsy reverse jam. And it was O'Bannon controlling just about every rebound.
Arkansas came no closer than eight over the final 4:06.
"I think they underrated us in that they said their bench was real deep," said O'Bannon. "It was sweet, man. There ain't no way anybody on our team is going to come out of this game and say they were tired. This was for the national championship. We whupped them, simple as that."