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He Went Great Length for Bruins

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Half a world away, in a Barcelona hotel room, Tyus Edney will drag himself out of bed tonight and flick on the television set.

Chances are none of the channels will carry the NCAA regional semifinal between UCLA and Missouri, which begins around 4 a.m. in Spain. Still, he will check.

“I’d like to see it,” he said. “It would bring back good memories.”

Seven years ago--the last time these teams met--he was a senior point guard for the Bruins. His last-second heroics, driving the length of the court and scoring at the buzzer, propelled UCLA through the second round and onward to a national championship.

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That day ranks as a highlight for a player who subsequently toiled as an NBA journeyman and now leads Benetton Treviso, a team in the Italian and Euroleagues. With road games stretching from Barcelona to Istanbul to Tel Aviv, he has been forced to follow his alma mater via the Internet and phone calls from home.

Friends have mentioned that clips of his 1995 play are showing on all the Los Angeles television stations these days.

“It was cool when I heard that,” he told The Times by phone Wednesday from Barcelona. “It’s good to know people still remember.”

Still remember?

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UCLA Coach Steve Lavin, an assistant to Jim Harrick at the time, called it “a storybook finish. I remember 15 or 20 minutes later in the locker room, the team was just so excited.” Harrick, now at Georgia, has referred to the play as “a defining moment of my coaching career.”

Such nostalgia is not limited to people who were in the arena in Boise, Idaho, that night. UCLA freshman Cedric Bozeman was a youngster watching on television at his grandmother’s house.

“That was a big giant-killer,” he said.

Only 4.8 seconds remained when Missouri’s Julian Winfield scored to give the Tigers a one-point lead. While some former UCLA players recall feeling confident, Edney feared his top-seeded team was sunk.

During the ensuing timeout, one of Harrick’s assistants suggested a long inbounds pass, but Harrick told him: “Be quiet, I know what I’m doing.” The idea originated years earlier as the coach watched Jerry West win a game for the Lakers. All season long, UCLA had practiced a six-second drill in which Edney took the ball all the way.

“Just get into the key,” Edney said. “Look for a quick pass or some kind of a shot if I’m open.”

The play worked perfectly. Edney dribbled up the left sideline, then lost his defender with a left-handed, behind-the-back dribble. That freed him to drive the right side of the lane for a baby hook over two defenders.

The ball banked off the glass and through the basket with no time remaining. The Bruins won, 75-74.

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“Just watching the ball go in,” he said, “it was kind of unbelievable.”

It was the pinnacle of a career that has also known lows.

Two weeks after the Missouri game, Edney injured his wrist and lasted only a few minutes into the final against Arkansas, watching from the bench as sophomore Cameron Dollar led the team to its 11th national championship and first in 20 years. “Definitely I was disappointed,” he said.

He rebounded as a rookie in the NBA, playing well as a second-round draft pick for the Sacramento Kings. But things did not go as smoothly the next season, or the one after that when he signed with the Boston Celtics.

A former Bruin teammate, Ed O’Bannon, has spoken about the difficulty of trying to recapture the excitement of that 1995 tournament run. Edney did his best not to dwell on the game-winning shot against Missouri, but “people kept mentioning it.”

In 1999, he landed overseas and helped Zalgiris Kaunas become the first Lithuanian team to win a Euroleague title. Then came an injury-shortened season with the Indiana Pacers. Then a return trip across the Atlantic to play for Benetton.

It seems European basketball agrees with him.

“It reminds me of the college game,” he said. “The players are stronger and more talented, but the style of the game, there’s a lot of zone. It’s still a team game instead of an individual game.”

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The problem is, UCLA games are rarely televised in Italy. Word filters to him in bits and pieces.

“I know it has been an up-and-down year for them,” he said. “But they’re a talented team and it was a great win against Cincinnati.”

So he will interrupt a good night’s sleep in hopes of catching them on television tonight, hours after Benetton’s game against Barcelona. Edney hopes that UCLA’s second-round upset of Cincinnati will give the team a boost, a launching point for a championship run.

Just like seven years ago.

“You can feed off something like that,” he said. “It gives you a chance.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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