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NCAA Title Victory for UCLA Places Bruins Back at the Top

By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun

The ghosts are gone. The decades of frustration are over. After a 20-year interruption, the tradition has continued. UCLA is back.

Back where it was in the days of Alcindor and Warren, of Patterson and Wicks and Rowe. Of Walton and Wilkes. And of Wooden. Always Wooden. Back on top of the college basketball world.

With last night's 89-78 victory over defending champion Arkansas in the NCAA championship game at the Kingdome, the top-ranked Bruins reclaimed the spot that was once their private domain. Despite the absence of point guard Tyus Edney, who sat out all but the first few minutes with a badly sprained right wrist, UCLA managed to do the unexpected.

With senior All-American and tournament MVP Ed O'Bannon scoring a game-high 30 points and pulling down a game-high 17 rebounds and with freshman guard Toby Bailey tying his career high with 26 points to go along with nine rebounds, the Bruins dominated the Razorbacks down the stretch.

Conversely, Arkansas stars Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman virtually disappeared. Williamson, the MVP of last year's Final Four, finished with only 12 points on three-for-16 shooting and only four rebounds. Thurman, who hit the key three-point shot to beat Duke last year, finished with five on two-for-nine from the field.

The victory was played out before a roaring crowd of around 39,000 that included 84-year-old John Wooden, who won UCLA's first 10 national championships. It was the 19th consecutive win for UCLA (31-2) and was the biggest of Jim Harrick's career, giving the often-beleaguered coach more than his share of redemption after seven years in Westwood.

The defeat was the first in two years of tournament play for Arkansas (32-7) and only the second in the past 17 games for the Razorbacks. It prevented Nolan Richardson from joining a select group of coaches who have won back-to-back national titles.

Trailing by 12 with a little more than 11 minutes left, and by nine, 67-58, with just less than eight minutes to go, Arkansas stormed back. The Razorbacks went on a 6-0 run that could have been worse had they not missed three consecutive shots.

The Bruins went stone-cold and seemed to tire, missing the front end of two one-and-ones, committing a pair of turnovers and missing a couple of shots. O'Bannon ended a drought of nearly three minutes with a jump hook to put UCLA up 69-64.

The last two points came when O'Bannon rebounded a miss by Williamson, fired a three-quarter-court pass to Bailey, who went up for a reverse dunk. The Bruins celebrated on the court, their fans in the stands.

But it seemed as if the celebration was a bit premature as the Razorbacks pulled within four, 55-51. UCLA righted itself, with George Zidek, Charles O'Bannon and Bailey doing the righting.