Jim Harrick’s on-court adjustments served UCLA well in 1995 NCAA title win
From the archives: This week marks the 25th anniversary of the UCLA men’s basketball team’s last NCAA championship victory. The following is former Times columnist Mike Downey’s story on who stood out and the improvisations coach Jim Harrick made during the Bruins’ victory over Arkansas in the national championship game on April 3, 1995:
SEATTLE — Unable to use star guard Tyus Edney for most of the game, the UCLA Bruins nonetheless won the school’s 11th national championship--and first without John Wooden as coach--in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Monday night, defeating Arkansas, 89-78.
“We hated to do it to your Hogs, but we just had to do it,” victorious Coach Jim Harrick said on the telephone to President Clinton, who called from Little Rock, Ark., after watching the game on television. Clinton has called himself the No. 1 fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks, last season’s national champions.
UCLA ended the season with a 19-game winning streak and a record of 31-2. This was the first championship for the Bruins since 1975.
The victory touched off a wild celebration around the UCLA campus in Westwood. Thousands of ecstatic students and supporters poured into the streets, singing the school’s fight song, sending up a roar of joy.
All-America forward Ed O’Bannon led the way for the victorious Bruins with 30 points and 17 rebounds in his final game for UCLA. But after being voted the tournament’s most valuable player, O’Bannon hoisted childhood friend Edney off the ground and announced, “Here’s the real MVP, right here!” to the crowd of 38,540 at the Seattle Kingdome.
With the coronavirus outbreak putting tradition reunions on hold, the 1995 UCLA men’s basketball NCAA title team improvises by meeting and reminiscing on Zoom.
Having sprained his right wrist in Saturday’s semifinal matchup, Edney gamely tried to play Monday, but removed himself 2 minutes 37 seconds into the game. The maker of spectacular baskets in previous tournament games, the team’s senior spark plug did not take a shot.
But freshman forward Toby Bailey, playing all but one minute, contributed 26 points for the Bruins, two on a spectacular reverse dunk. And under considerable pressure as Edney’s replacement at point guard, sophomore Cameron Dollar came through with eight assists and four steals.
“UCLA played a great ballgame,” said Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson. “I think all of their kids played exceptionally well. You’ve got to congratulate Coach Harrick and his ballclub. They just played lights out.”
The championship culminated seven seasons as UCLA’s coach for Harrick, who has had the longest tenure of any of Wooden’s successors. The Bruins have never failed to win at least 20 games in any season under Harrick.
“Now I understand what Coach Wooden was feeling all those years,” Harrick said, hugging his wife, Sally. “This is as good as it gets.”
A look at the players and coaches from UCLA’s 1995 NCAA men’s basketball championship team and what they are up to today.
Forced to improvise, Harrick used only six players after being restricted by Edney’s injury. The coach rotated them in and out, giving breathers to everyone but O’Bannon and — at one point against the Razorbacks’ pressure defense — had no guards on the floor.
The Bruins responded by making 53% of their shots in the second half, breaking the game open after holding a one-point lead, 40-39, at halftime.
“I was certainly very concerned when we couldn’t have our most valuable player, Tyus Edney, play,” Harrick said. “I knew before the game that he couldn’t dribble or handle the ball.
“I would like to give emotion or divine intervention a little bit of credit, but I’d like to give our players a lot of credit. Starting with the guy, I think, who is the best player in America, bar none, 30 and 17 in the championship game, a guy who would refuse all year to let us lose, always finding a way to win, and I mean Ed O’Bannon.”
O’Bannon scored in double figures in each of UCLA’s 33 games this season. He became the first senior named outstanding player of the NCAA tournament since Glen Rice of Michigan in 1989.
The most iconic shot in UCLA history — by Tyus Edney with 4.8 seconds left in a 1995 March Madness game — originated on a makeshift driveway court.
Monday’s game was attended by Wooden, the 84-year-old coaching legend who once won 10 national championships in 12 seasons. Wooden had declined to attend earlier tournament games, saying he did not want to divert attention from the current UCLA coaches and players.
“I’m very proud,” Wooden told the Associated Press. “To be honest, I didn’t think they could win it without Edney. He makes that team run. But Bailey and Dollar played wonderfully. Dollar didn’t score many points, but his defense was superb.”
The champions will be honored in a public ceremony Wednesday at 5 p.m. at their campus arena, Pauley Pavilion.
Times staff writer Jack Cheevers contributed to this story from Westwood.
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