Wyoming Puts Fennis-ing Touch to UCLA Season
UCLA is back, all right. Back home. Missing from the NCAA tournament for four years, the Bruins are gone again, forced to leave Saturday when Wyoming pulled Fennis Dembo out of a Cowboy hat and made them disappear.
The Wyoming Cowboys, playing their own brand of power basketball, ended UCLA’s return to the NCAA playoffs, 78-68, in the second round of the West Regional by turning Dembo loose in the wide-open spaces of three-point country.
Putting Dembo out there was like rolling out the chuck wagon. He fired in seven three-pointers with not a hand in his face and devastated UCLA with a career-high 41 points in 39 minutes.
Doesn’t Dembo care about tradition? No he does not, certainly not UCLA’s, anyway.
“Does tradition play any part in the outcome of the game?” Dembo asked. “I didn’t play against no Kareem, no Marques Johnson or no Kiki Vandeweghe.”
Too often, Dembo was playing against no one. It isn’t often that the Bruins get out-Reggied, but while Miller was getting bumped around by Jonathan Sommers inside, a surprise defensive match-up, UCLA unwisely left Dembo by himself.
That was dumb Dembo strategy, Wyoming Coach Jim Brandenburg said.
“Turning Dembo loose is a problem at that three-point line,” he said. “Fennis hasn’t seen that much room in a long, long time. I think maybe I’d have gotten somebody on him a little bit more.”
But the way the Bruins went out, before 14,944 at the University of Utah’s Special Events Center, it was clear Dembo wasn’t the only dilemma UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard had to solve and didn’t.
UCLA’s outside shooting, which they hoped would carry them, disappeared once Brandenburg switched Dembo with Sommers on Miller.
Hazzard said Sommers was allowed to be too physical on Miller, who attempted only two shots in the final 10 minutes 58 seconds.
“I don’t think that all things were equal out there today in terms of how physical they let us play,” said Hazzard, who kept Trevor Wilson, his most physical player, on the bench for all but nine minutes. Greg Foster was in for 12 minutes, and Kevin Walker for less than one.
Miller finished with 24 points, but he was not a factor in the last five minutes, when Wyoming finally took the lead.
Said Reggie: “I don’t want to talk about the officiating, but they missed a lot of calls out there.”
And when it got down to it, the Bruins missed a lot of shots out there. They scored exactly four points in the last 7 minutes 58 seconds, missed 12 of their last 13 shots, and among them were several they never should have tried.
The Bruins were ahead, 64-60, when Dembo nailed a three-pointer. UCLA threw the ball away, and 6-foot 11-inch center Eric Leckner scored on a short turnaround jumper, making it 65-64 with 5:09 to go.
After that, UCLA fell apart in very large pieces. Charles Rochelin, who has taken only 10 three-point shots all season, chose the next trip down for his 11th. It didn’t go, and Leckner came back with another short turnaround jumper.
“When I got the ball, I looked inside, but everybody was being overplayed, so I just shot it,” Rochelin said.
The only other basket UCLA scored was Jack Haley’s four-footer that got the Bruins back within 67-66. The rest of the way, UCLA’s shooters missed 5 three-pointers and 3 layups, and committed 2 turnovers.
Wyoming put the game away from the free-throw line. The Cowboys scored 9 of their last 11 points from the line, which is another place Dembo dominated. He made all 16 of his free throws, even though Miller tried to bother him by talking to him.
“He said, ‘Miss it, Fennis, miss it Fennis,’ ” said Dembo, who also had a few things to say to Miller during the game.
“It wouldn’t have been the Reggie Miller and Fennis Dembo show if we hadn’t been talking, hotdog to hotdog,” he said
Leckner finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, but that was pretty much expected. The unusual part was what happened to the Bruins, who for the first time all season seemed to lose their poise down the stretch.
If UCLA had a chance, it was going to be with its outside shooting. But the Bruins shot 25.7% in the second half and 34.3% for the game, missed 14 of the 18 three-pointers they tried and got crushed on the backboards, 40-30.
“I think they felt they had to go to the three-pointers,” Brandenburg said of the Bruins’ shot selection. “Those three-pointers won them games all year long. Whether they went to the three-pointers too quick or panic set in, I don’t know.”
While Hazzard conceded that Wyoming was the better team, he said the Cowboys were allowed to play too rough. “They’re physical and we’re not physical. We don’t have an offensive tackle.”
None of that seemed to matter in the first half, which ended with UCLA leading, 44-38. Pooh Richardson had five of his six assists in the half, and when Reggie drove the middle for a layup and got fouled by Sommers and made the free throw, the Bruins still led, 59-54, with 10:58 left.
That was also when Sommers thought Miller became upset with being played so tightly.
“He started getting really frustrated,” Sommers said. “He threw the ball back at me after I fouled him. We were looking for that because we knew he had a low frustration level. After that, he didn’t seem to be cutting across the lane too hard and working for the ball as much.”
Miller insisted that he was trying to be aggressive. “I’m sure I could have shot the ball a little bit more,” he said. “I was looking for it, but I was looking for the ball off the backboards, too.
“The refs are going to see some and they’re not going to see some,” Miller said.
And now, the NCAA won’t see UCLA any more this season. “We’ll just tighten our belts,” Hazzard said. “We’ll pack it in, recover and hopefully make it to the next step next year.”
UCLA’s backcourt outscored Wyoming, 27-8, but up front, Fennis Dembo and Eric Leckner outscored Reggie Miller, Jack Haley, Charles Rochelin, Trevor Wilson and Craig Jackson, 61-35. . . . UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard was asked how the Cowboys match up against Nevada Las Vegas. “They don’t,” he said. Wyoming (24-9) plays UNLV (35-1) Friday night in the West Regional at Seattle. . . . From Wyoming Coach Jim Brandenburg: “This was not an upset. We beat Virginia, and I didn’t think that was an upset. I thought we could beat UCLA, and there are a lot of people around the country who thought we could beat UCLA.” If they beat UNLV, would that be an upset? “Yes,” Brandenburg said. “I can’t go overboard.”. . .UCLA wound up with a 25-7 record, and finished with 22 wins in its last 25 games.