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A Show of Hands
Tim Crothers
February 27, 1995
Two big wins lifted UCLA's hopes that this year's Bruins won't fold
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February 27, 1995

A Show Of Hands

Two big wins lifted UCLA's hopes that this year's Bruins won't fold

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March Maddening
Fast starts and flame-out finishes have been something of a hallmark at UCLA during coach Jim Harrick's era, which began in 1988. Sunday's win over Arizona left this year's Bruins with an 18-2 record and the toughest part of their schedule behind them, but the question remains: Will things be different in Westwood this year?

Season

Start

Finish

Overall Record

Tournament Results

1988-89

16-5

5-5

21-10

2nd round loss to North Carolina

1989-90

16-4

6-7

22-11

Regional semifinal loss to Duke

1990-91

17-5

6-4

23-9

1st round loss to Penn State

1991-92

21-1

7-4

28-5

Regional final loss to Indiana

1992-93

18-7

4-4

22-11

2nd round loss to Michigan

1993-94

14-0

7-7

21-7

1st round loss to Tulsa

Though it has been deemed an inspirational icon, the photograph on the wall in the UCLA locker room looks suspiciously like a tacky postcard of a rainbow piercing the roof of Seattle's Kingdome, the site of this year's Final Four. The picture serves to remind the Bruins of a little detour they took before a game against Washington on Feb. 9. Coach Jim Harrick had the team bus stop at the Kingdome, and he sneaked his troops in for a quick visit, wanting them to see for themselves the destination they aspire to this season. "We hoped to get their hearts started a little bit," Harrick says, "just to see how our guys would react." Much to his delight, the Bruins' pulse rates haven't come down yet.

Harrick's move was a calculated preemptive strike against the most recent and ugly UCLA basketball tradition, the one that Harrick would rather not talk about. During his previous six seasons in Westwood, his teams have exhibited a tendency to start quickly—only to free-fall down the stretch (chart, page 51). The notion now persists that, if this is February, the Bruins' basketball fortunes should start dropping faster than the value of the peso. The malady reached the critical stage a year ago when UCLA broke from the gate 14-0 and assumed the No. 1 ranking, only to finish 7-7, cough up the conference title to Arizona and ultimately suffer a devastating opening-round loss to Tulsa in the NCAA tournament.

So here we go again. The 1994-95 Bruins have started like the hare. "I wish I could say that we aren't going to take a nosedive," senior forward Ed O'Bannon said last week, "but it's constantly in the back of our minds. It comes from being disappointed so many times in the past. For the last few years we've been talking about all the Pac-10 titles we were going to win and all the Final Fours we were going to make. If talk won games, we'd have another 10 NCAA championships already."

Sitting in his office last Friday, two days before UCLA was to face archrival Arizona in Pauley Pavilion, Harrick begged to differ. He adamantly defended his record. He proudly pointed out that his current seniors, O'Bannon, Tyus Edney and George Zidek, have an opportunity to win 100 games in their careers. For the seniors to attain that goal, the Bruins must win the rest of their regular-season games and then do what they have not done since 1980—reach the Final Four. "People just look at what we've done in the NCAAs and then say, 'Harrick's on the hot seat,' but I can tell you that it's not even warm," said Harrick, touching his chair for effect.

As the bitter Pac-10 rivals prepared to square off on Sunday, it was safe to say that the Bruins' late-season troubles had not escaped the notice of their friends from Tucson. "Sure, we realize that they always seem to come out of the box last and then collapse," said Damon Stoudamire, the star guard of the then No. 12 Wildcats. "Maybe we can beat UCLA and send it plunging into another tailspin."

Even before facing Arizona, the Bruins had a tough test last Thursday against then No. 13 Arizona State. And Harrick didn't try to minimize the importance of the two games. He told the Bruins that this would be Championship Weekend at UCLA—but whose championship? With one game separating the three teams, the Pac-10 title was up for grabs.

After the Bruins fell behind Arizona State by five points with 2:12 left, it was starting to look like swoon time again in Westwood. But UCLA clawed its way back with the help of a big three-pointer by O'Bannon and prevailed 82-77 in OT. Then, O'Bannon lifted the Bruins on his shoulders once more against Arizona, scoring 31 points as UCLA dispatched the Wildcats 72-70 and put a half nelson on the conference title—a two-game lead with five games to go.

Surprise. UCLA is now 18-2, ranked No. 2 and looking squarely at the top seed in the West Regional come NCAA tournament time. Through it all, the Bruins have been willed ahead by O'Bannon, who just might be having the most sublime season of any player in the country. Still, it appears that if UCLA is to go to the promised land, a child or two shall have to help lead them.

It is worth noting that the Bruins' current crop of freshman recruits is the first in which none of the players was even born when UCLA won the most recent of its 10 national titles, in 1975. "When was the last championship?" asked freshman J.R. Henderson, standing directly beneath the '75 NCAA banner inside Pauley last week. "I don't know a single thing about it."

"It's like a myth from a different age," said another freshman, 6'5" swingman Toby Bailey.

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