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UCLA’s 1995 NCAA title MVP? Take it from Ed O’Bannon, it was Tyus Edney

UCLA teammates carry Tyus Edney off the court after he made the game-winning shot to beat Missouri, 75-74, in the NCAA West Regional on March 19, 1995.
(Bill Haber / Associated Press)

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 staff writer Gene Wojciechowski’s story about Tyus Edney’s heroics during the Bruins’ 1995 NCAA championship run:

SEATTLE — “Testing . . . testing.”

Ed O’Bannon, the newly named most valuable player of the Final Four, stood on the makeshift stage near midcourt, microphone in hand, and tried again to quiet a crowd trying to make sense of a Kingdome scoreboard that read, UCLA 89, Arkansas 78.

“Yo!” O’Bannon yelled. “I want you to hear this. This is the real MVP. Give it up for Tyus. He got us here. That’s the man. That’s the real MVP.”

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Sure enough, the crowd cheered for Tyus Edney, the senior point guard whose line in the box score looked like something a team’s 12th man might put up during a garbage-time appearance:

Two minutes 37 seconds. Zero points. Zero rebounds. Zero assists. Zero steals. One turnover.

This is the Bruins’ MVP?

Damn right.

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A few hours earlier, Edney, his sprained right wrist throbbing, had walked glumly to the Bruin bench after pregame warm-ups. Waiting for him was Coach Jim Harrick, asking, could Edney play?

“It’s going to be a long night,” Edney had said. “I don’t think I can play. I’ll give it a shot.”

Harrick started him, but Edney was useless. He couldn’t dribble. He couldn’t handle the ball. He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t be what UCLA needed most. He couldn’t be Tyus.

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“Do you want the hot pack anymore?” trainer Tony Spino said as Edney returned to the bench with 17:23 remaining in the first half.

“No, I can’t play,” Edney said.

Edney put on his warm-up jacket, took a seat next to assistant coach Steve Lavin and propped his injured wrist on his right knee.

“It’s not right,” he kept saying. “It’s not fair. It’s messed up.”

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Lavin had heard enough.

“Hey, thanks for getting us here,” Lavin said. “Without the Missouri shot, we’re not here. Now we just got to find a way to get it done. Without you, we’re not here. You did what you had to do. Now we just have to find a way.”

In 31 of 32 games this season--29 of them victories--Edney had strapped the Bruins on his slender shoulders and carried them to the brink of a Final Four championship. His heroics against Missouri, when he drove the length of the floor in the waning moments of the second-round tournament game and smooched his shot off the glass at the buzzer, will live forever in Bruin basketball lore.

But so will Monday evening’s performance, when he played 157 meaningless seconds. As it turned out, his teammates were giving him the night off.

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A look at the players and coaches from UCLA’s 1995 NCAA men’s basketball championship team and what they are up to today.

Edney hated the view, but he didn’t mind the final result.

“I didn’t have the strength that I needed,” he said. “I knew that I would probably hurt my team if I tried to stay in the game. I knew I had to sit down and just do whatever I could on the sideline.”

He had sprained his wrist Saturday in a nasty fall in the semifinal victory over Oklahoma State. He played the rest of that game, but the wrist was sore by the time he returned to the team hotel. Sunday, it was worse.

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Spino tried ice packs, muscle stimulators, stretching exercises and heat.

“We used everything we could possibly use,” he said. “He just didn’t respond.”

So Edney sat, but he didn’t pout. When a Bruin returned to the bench, Edney was there to slap his palm, but always with the left hand. When the Bruins huddled in the corridor before the start of the second half, Edney did the talking.

“I just told everybody to try to just keep playing hard and we could win this game,” he said. “Basically the style of the game was playing street ball, and that’s getting up and down, and scoring layups and dunks. I told everybody to just come out, keep staying aggressive and we’ll be all right.”

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Tyus talks, Bruins listen. A one-point UCLA halftime lead quickly grew to 10.

Edney wasn’t through. During each timeout, he talked to his teammates.

With Toby Bailey as a starter, UCLA went 13-0 and finished the 1994-95 season on a 19-game winning streak en route to capturing the NCAA title.

“He was helping us stay together,” O’Bannon said afterward.

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When Edney’s replacement, Cameron Dollar, stole the ball from Razorback point guard Corey Beck and then laid it in for two more killer points, Tyus was seen jumping on the sideline, smiling, laughing for the first time since late Saturday night, when he realized his wrist was hurt.

Then came the gesture Edney will never forget. With 42.9 seconds left to play, UCLA up, 87-75, the Bruin crowd seated behind the bench began its heartfelt chant.

“Ty-us! Ty-us! Ty-us!”

Edney turned to the fans, raised his right arm and nodded.

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Then it was over. UCLA had won. Edney climbed a stepladder, snipped the net and collected a piece for himself. Points or no points, he had earned it.

“I felt a part of it the whole way,” Edney said. “Even being on the sideline, I still felt a part of the game.”

That’s how the other Bruins felt too.


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