One former UCLA champion recognizes current team’s chemistry

Former UCLA star and current coaching staff member Tyus Edney sees plenty of similarities between the current Bruins team and the last championship squad.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Tyus Edney has seen this all before.

The early season victory over highly ranked Kentucky. A feisty sixth man point guard. Freshmen who changed the complexion of the team. A disheartening road loss to Oregon for the first defeat of the season followed by an emotional home triumph over the Ducks.

The onetime dynamo of a point guard would like another similarity to emerge between two of the most enthralling UCLA teams in recent decades: the ending.

The 1994-95 season concluded with Edney and his teammates cutting down the nets inside Seattle’s Kingdome after winning the national championship. The current Bruins are in the midst of another potentially magical journey, which continues Sunday afternoon against Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion.

Scoring was not an issue for either team, which routinely topped 90 points. They also both thrived in the fun department.

“The key with our team was we genuinely enjoyed making plays for each other and helping somebody get a dunk or a layup or anything, getting stops on defense,” said Edney, a senior on UCLA’s last championship team who returned in 2010 as director of operations. “We loved that stuff and it was genuine and we were as close off the court as on the court, and I think that’s a quality of this team, just how they get along off the court and it shows on the court.”


Like the present team, Edney’s Bruins featured a group of last-chance seniors who welcomed freshmen who could help them reach places they could not get alone. Newcomers Toby Bailey, J.R. Henderson and Kris Johnson created a winning blend alongside seniors Edney, Ed O’Bannon and George Zidek.

“Our freshmen coming in elevated our game to another level,” Edney said.

The same sentence applies to UCLA freshmen Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu, who have provided the support that seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton lacked last season on the way to a losing record.

Balance was a trait of both teams. Four Bruins scored at least 20 points in a game last week against Washington for the first time in the program’s history since — you guessed it — Edney and the 1994-95 team did it against George Mason.

“His team has a lot of comparisons to this team,” Alford said recently. “It’s almost eerily similar how it’s been so far.”

The first player off the bench on Edney’s team was usually Cameron Dollar, a sophomore point guard who has a contemporary counterpart in Aaron Holiday. Dollar saved the Bruins with a gritty performance in the national championship game against Arkansas after a sore wrist limited Edney to less than three minutes.

UCLA lost only two games that season, but the record book shows them finishing 32-1 because a setback against California later became a victory as a result of NCAA violations committed by the Golden Bears. The Bruins beat then-No. 3 Kentucky in late November and rose to No. 1 in the rankings after a victory over Duke in late February.

Their NCAA tournament run is largely remembered for Edney’s mad dash with 4.8 seconds left that resulted in a buzzer-beating layup to topple Missouri in the second round. Ball might be even more of a blur.

“He’s fast, like I think I was pretty fast,” Edney said, “but I considered myself an unselfish guard, too, and I enjoyed making plays for our guys and I see that about him, that he really does make people better and he likes making plays for guys and he’s smart, he’s a good player, he knows how to play the game.”

The present-day Bruins like it whenever Edney tells them about the great old days for a program experiencing a 22-year title drought. Alford said he tries to learn something from his predecessor every day.

“He’s been a huge part of what we’re doing so far this year, our success,” Alford said, “and he’s going to continue to kind of be that guide this year for our team and our guys of how we can get to where we want to go.”




When: 2 p.m., Sunday

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: FS1; Radio: 570.

Update: UCLA would receive a No. 4 seeding in the NCAA tournament’s East Regional if the season ended Saturday, according to a sneak peek of the brackets revealed by the selection committee. Of course, there’s a month to go before the only brackets that matter are released. The 10th-ranked Bruins (22-3 overall, 9-3 Pac-12 Conference) probably won’t budge from their spot Sunday unless they lose to the Beavers (4-21, 0-12), who have dropped 12 consecutive games and may not get leading scorer Tres Tinkle back this season from the broken right wrist that has sidelined him since late November.

Twitter: @latbbolch