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UCLA hero Tyus Edney says Bruins remind him of famous forebears

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The instant the NCAA tournament brackets were announced, memories came flooding back to Tyus Edney. Bad memories.

Twenty years ago, his UCLA team suffered an upset loss to Tulsa in the tournament's first round.

"That was a tough day," he said. "I just remember how upset and angry we were."

Now Edney is director of basketball operations for the Bruins and his team is once again facing a March Madness opener against the Golden Hurricane.

But he sees a different sort of history playing out.

The fourth-seeded Bruins remind him of the team UCLA had a year after that Tulsa loss when he and his teammates rebounded to win the 1995 national championship. He sees a familiar blend of youth and experience, a group of players with something to prove.

"There are similarities for sure," he said. "They're more confident in themselves now and they believe they can make a good run."

Watching from afar, Tulsa Coach Danny Manning has been impressed.

"They have some really, really good players who can attack," Manning said. "They push the tempo. They spread the ball around."

Back in 1994-95, three seniors — Edney, Ed O'Bannon and George Zidek — led coach Jim Harrick's team. O'Bannon's younger brother, Charles, and freshman Toby Bailey filled out the lineup.

Two more underclassmen — Cameron Dollar and J.R. Henderson — contributed off the bench.

Edney figures that team needed a chip on its shoulder to stay focused all the way to the title. The Tulsa loss, he said, "ended up being a good thing."

The current Bruins still feel a comparable pain from losing to Minnesota in the second round of the 2014 tournament. As point guard Kyle Anderson explained, "It was terrible."

And, much like 20 years ago, this roster comes in all ages.

Seniors Travis and David Wear have matured into solid frontline players. Two sophomores — Anderson and Jordan Adams — lead the scoring with junior guard Norman Powell.

Freshmen Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford give UCLA energy off the bench, as does sophomore Tony Parker.

Redemption isn't the only motivation for these Bruins. They have also benefited from an off-season coaching change.

Gone is Ben Howland and his tightly controlled system, replaced by a more wide-open brand of basketball under Steve Alford. With the reins loosened, Edney — who was also a member of Howland's staff — noticed a shift in attitude among the players.

"They look like they're enjoying themselves, like they enjoy playing with each other," he said. "It's become infectious."

Manning also sees it.

"Coach Howland had a lot of success there but his philosophy was a little different," the Tulsa coach said. "I just think it is Steve's style. This is an offense with a lot of balance."

That characteristic again harks back to a 1994-95 squad that lacked superstars — no one became a fixture in the NBA — but knew how to work together to win close games.

UCLA defeated Arkansas, 89-78, in the final. The program has not won a title since then.

The current Bruins aren't highly ranked like their predecessors. They haven't come up with anything as sensational as Edney's last-second, full-court dash to beat Missouri in the second round.

However, they have shown a vaguely familiar grit, especially in fighting their way past Arizona for the Pac-12 Conference tournament championship.

"Our young guys have matured a lot faster than I expected," Edney said. "That's another similarity."

Further comparisons will have to wait. The Bruins have yet to prove themselves under tournament pressure. Alford, whose previous team — New Mexico — got bounced by underdog Harvard last season, knows that better than anyone.

As he recently explained: "UCLA, it's all about March."

david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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