Half-Court Shot Is on the Money in UCLA Victory

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A panicked dribble, a hard spin around a Washington defender at half court, several seconds of hope . . . then glory.

Cameron Dollar's tumbling, desperate, perfect 45-foot heave as the clock expired--the very definition of a long shot--catapulted UCLA to an unexplainable, undeniable, just about unbelievable 91-88 overtime triumph over the Huskies Thursday night.

"I've always wondered," Dollar said, "if I could do that."

Whoosh, there it goes.

Even regular Bruin watchers, relatively jaded by their knack for dramatics this season, were alternately amazed and bemused by this frenzied finish, which began when Husky guard Bryant Boston tied it up on a runner with three seconds left in overtime.

"It's funny that he hit it," said Charles O'Bannon of Dollar, "because he never hits it in practice."

Who says Dollar's no Tyus Edney?

"I kind of know how he feels now," Dollar said afterward. "It's not the same circumstance [as Edney's last-second basket against Missouri last year], but it's close. Real close.

"When it left my fingers, I was thinking, 'That looks like it's going in.' Then when it when in, it was, 'You've got to be kidding.' "

Kidding? Not with his teammates swarming around him, bouncing along with the Pauley Pavilion overflow.

So this is how UCLA reaches its second consecutive Pacific 10 title:

--With Dollar, the least likely Bruin, chasing down a long in-bounds pass from Jelani McCoy as the clock wound down from three seconds, barreling one step away from the press table and one second away from double-overtime.

--With the Washington players, who rallied back and rallied back and rallied back all night, sprawled on the floor in agony.

--With UCLA reaching out and grabbing yet another stunning--and measurably sloppy--victory before 11,890.

When the ball bottomed out through the net, it was Dollar's only basket of the night. He had four points.

"There's nobody more deserving than Cameron Dollar," UCLA Coach Jim Harrick said, probably having visions of last season's national title drama. "Guys like that deserve to make a shot of that magnitude.

"Last year was like a merry-go-round; this year is like a roller coaster."

The Bruins blew an eight-point lead with 1:40 left in regulation and checked away several chances to pull away in overtime, setting up the miraculous finish.

After Boston's bucket, McCoy gathered the ball behind the baseline, then led a striding Dollar perfectly down the left side of the sideline.

"I didn't know how much time I had," Dollar said, "I just wanted to get the ball down court as fast as I could. That's my first game-winner."

Said forward Kris Johnson, who scored 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds to fill the void left when J.R. Henderson couldn't play because of strep throat: "Only certain guys can hit that kind of big shot. We'll definitely look for him from now on to take over."

UCLA, 22-7 overall and 15-2 in Pac-10 play, actually clinched the title a few minutes before Dollar's bomb--when Stanford beat second-place Arizona--but the victory over Washington all but assured the Bruins a spot in the West Regional.

The Pauley Pavilion crowd ambled onto court to celebrate UCLA wrapping up its second consecutive Pacific 10 Conference title, but did it rather quietly, stunned more than stimulated a Bruin team that, in sickness and in health, keeps finding perilous paths.

"It just seemed like the minute it left his hands, it was destined to go in," Washington Coach Bob Bender said.

The shot actually was a reprieve for Dollar, who traveled with four seconds left in regulation to deny UCLA a chance to win it. But Booker missed a desperation three-point shot at the regulation buzzer, sending the game to overtime, 82-82.

Washington had tied the game with 18 seconds left in regulation with a stunning four-point play by Jason Hamilton, burying a line drive jumper as Toby Bailey crashed into him to give him an additional free throw.

That erased the 81-73 lead UCLA built with 1:41 left, on a fall-away three-point basket by Bailey.

Seven minutes into the second half, it was tied, 55-55. From there, with McCoy (who broke the Bruin career blocked shots mark with seven more to give him 98 in his freshman season) and Johnson taking over underneath, the Bruins outscored Washington, 13-5, over the next five minutes, taking a 68-60 lead.

McCoy had 17 points in the game, Bailey 22.

Though Washington stuck around through the next several minutes, the long minutes and serious foul trouble began to wear them down.

But another series of Bruin turnovers--three in five possessions--kept Washington, 15-11 and 8-9, in the game as the clock wound down to the final minutes.

Not unexpectedly, the absence of Henderson, who has major ball-handling, defensive and low post duties, was obvious and troublesome for the Bruins.

Without Henderson, the team's leading scorer and its most consistent rebounder, UCLA was left dangerously thin both on the perimeter--where Kevin Dempsey was the only experienced backup--and at the post--where only Bob Myers could substitute.

That void was compounded early, when Dollar picked up two quick fouls and had to go to the bench for several minutes.

But he wasn't on the bench at the end.

"It does feel like we have this aura--from last year to this year," Dollar said. "You do get that feeling."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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* BIG EAST

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