Who Shot Kentucky? UCLA’s J.R., of Course : Wooden Classic: Freshman makes two free throws in final second to beat Wildcats, 82-81.
Barely 18 and blase enough about the whole, rowdy scene to sneak a shy smile over at his teammates, J.R. Henderson had the game in his hands and a national audience waiting to witness.
In an erratic, frantic game of runs and counterattacks Saturday afternoon, UCLA’s final push had brought them one point behind Kentucky, 81-80, with six-tenths of a second remaining.
Two free throws. One freshman.
“I just thought if he does miss, we’ll have to kick him off the team or something,” senior forward Ed O’Bannon said later. “Well, to be honest, I just wanted him to be relaxed.”
No problem for Henderson, who admits to a personality that does not quite crackle with emotion.
Henderson flipped the first free throw gently over the front rim, sat through Kentucky’s ensuing timeout, then swished the second one, giving UCLA an 82-81 victory before 18,307 at The Pond of Anaheim in the second game of the inaugural John R. Wooden Classic.
“He was as cool as ice,” O’Bannon said. “Of course, he really doesn’t say much anyway. To be honest, I’d have been all shaken up if it was me.”
When the Bruins had finally won it, O’Bannon screamed and jumped into center George Zidek’s arms, and the other Bruins celebrated as if they had won an NCAA tournament game.
“It was huge ,” O’Bannon said. “We’d been hearing things all week that we weren’t good enough, that we didn’t have enough heart to beat Kentucky. That kind of takes a toll. When it was over, it was like a huge sigh of relief.”
Henderson’s heroics capped a sloppy but tension-filled game between two top-five teams.
No. 5 UCLA (2-0) and No. 3 Kentucky (2-1) had not played each other since Wooden coached his final game 20 years ago, and in the first half both squads played as if they were running on excess adrenaline.
But with O’Bannon, who led all scorers with 26 points (17 in the second half) and Wildcat forward Rodrick Rhodes, who scored 12 of his team-leading 16 points in the second, upping their level of play, the second half was a showcase for two teams that hope to be playing deep into March.
“I thought the execution wasn’t tournament-caliber,” Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino said, “but the intensity certainly was.”
When Rhodes and backup guard Jeff Sheppard (14 points) led Kentucky on a 17-3 run midway through the second half, giving the Wildcats a 10-point lead with 10:12 to play, UCLA appeared ready to give way.
During the run, sophomore forward Charles O’Bannon, guarding Rhodes, picked up his fourth foul, then quickly, his fifth, with 11:33 to play, before UCLA Coach Jim Harrick could get his older brother, Ed, into the game to replace him.
Henderson, who ended up with 10 points, four rebounds and two assists, played the rest of the game at Charles O’Bannon’s small forward spot.
“When I came in, what I was really thinking about was Rhodes--what am I going to do?” Henderson said. “My teammates created a couple of turnovers that saved me from playing him some, and I felt I did a pretty good job on him.”
With Kentucky ahead by eight and less than five minutes left, Harrick said he told his team it could win the game only by stopping Kentucky’s offense. The Bruins responded by forcing turnovers on three of the Wildcats’ final six possessions and holding Kentucky to four points in the final 4:18.
UCLA’s offense also revved up late, scoring on its last six possessions, mostly off dribble penetration by guards Tyus Edney and Cameron Dollar. In that span, Zidek had one of the best stretches of his college career, scoring seven of UCLA’s final 11 points.
Overall, Zidek had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“To have a big lead with 10 minutes, we needed to stay with the defensive intensity that got us that lead,” Pitino said. “And we did not.”
The final moments were set up by UCLA’s trap defense, when Marquis Burns and Henderson forced Rhodes, deep in his backcourt, to fire a pass that caromed off of the knee of Mark Pope and out of bounds, giving UCLA the ball with 16.5 seconds remaining and Kentucky up by one.
With time running down, Edney said he knew he had to beat his man off the dribble.
“I saw an opening,” Edney said, “and I saw J.R. behind his defender, and I knew either I was going to get an open shot or I had a dish.”
Edney drew Rhodes, then passed to Henderson, who was fouled by Walter McCarty going for a slam.
Two free throws. One freshman.
On the sideline, assistant coach Mark Gottfried told Harrick that it reminded him of the time freshman Tracy Murray made two free throws to beat Kansas to put UCLA into the Sweet 16 in 1990.
Later, Harrick admitted: “I didn’t think J.R.'s as good a shooter as Murray was.”
For all that mattered Saturday, he was.
* A SHORT REIGN: Massachusetts, No. 1 for a week, comes up short against No. 7 Kansas, 81-75, in the opening game of the John Wooden Classic. C8