When You Wish Upon Many Stars, Gaze At Bruins

Kevin Eastman made it sound a good deal more clinical than a kid riffling through a Christmas catalog, but a wish list is a wish list.

“This is what I think makes up a good basketball team,” offered Washington State’s first-year coach, ticking off the toys on his fingers. “Talent - UCLA has some. Height UCLA has some. Ability to make the open shot - UCLA’s done it twice to us. Quickness - damn, they’ve got that, too.

“The only thing they don’t have is a 15th high school All-American and you’re not allowed that.”

And, once again, the Bruins had WSU’s number 98-83 this time, although it had to be vastly more entertaining than that for the 11,463 souls who wedged into Friel Court on Saturday.

The biggest Friel crowd in 12 years hoped for the best but got what it expected - accounting, you’d guess, for the fact that when the game was slipping away and the Cougars needed sixth-man support the most, their fans were too busy being impressed.

But, hey, what’s not to like?

Jump in the boat with the Bruins and you risk a plunge off Overstatement Falls. It’s always prudent to consider the context. For instance, UCLA has beaten WSU 68 times in 80 tries, so no new frontiers were tamed Saturday. On hardware alone, you’d have to call the school’s 10 NCAA championship teams that have detoured through Pullman a different breed of Bruin.

On that note, coach Jim Harrick took a few extra minutes out of the Northwest swing this weekend to give his team a brief tour of the Kingdome - site of the Final Four in seven weeks - just to get the fellas thinking that an 11th title might be their destiny.

If so, the Bruin constituency will be faced with its greatest challenge - how not to give Harrick any of the credit.

“In all honesty,” said Eastman, “you hear that sometimes UCLA doesn’t play hard. I don’t know how they played in the other games, but they played hard against us twice.

“You hear they don’t run stuff, but somehow they get mismatches inside and they always have an offensive rebounder down by the rim. If that’s luck, then he’s got a hell of a lot of wins by luck.”

And the rest, well, there is that roster.

There is Tyus Edney, whose 18-point, 11-assist, 4-steal line looked maddeningly routine. There are the O’Bannon brothers, who hurt you even when they’re not stuffing their scrapbooks. In this case, Ed O’Bannon and Cougar strongman Mark Hendrickson spent the afternoon canceling each other out and little brother Charles somehow only went off for 15 points despite having a mismatch on 5-foot-10 Shamon Antrum much of the game.

There is 7-foot center George Zidek, who averages 12 points a game and who helped the Bruins immensely by getting into foul trouble and sitting the last 18 minutes.

This allowed freshmen J.R. Henderson and Toby Bailey room to rip through the Cougars for 43 points. Henderson, at 6-9, is 3 inches shorter than Zidek but infinitely quicker, and Bailey is much more comfortable on the perimeter than Henderson, a de facto guard in UCLA’s starting lineup.

And yet their impact was probably more important at the defensive end, UCLA’s press and zone eventually being the factors that turned this game. Down four with 8 minutes to play, the Cougars turned the ball over on successive trips down the floor that allowed UCLA to double its lead and then missed 14 of their last 18 shots - almost all of them from 3-point range.

Still, the Bruins were equally impressed with WSU. Harrick went so far as to declare the Cougars one of the three early line favorites for next year’s Pac-10 title - Stanford and Cal being the others. Conveniently, he forgot the weapons he’ll have at his disposal.

As for this year, Ed O’Bannon insisted, “They’re a tournament team, sure.”

Well, not so sure. In fact, the Cougars, at 11-8, have reached their crossroads - this week’s trip to Oregon looking like the most important juncture of the season if for no other reason than their 0-4 Pac-10 road record to date.

“I think we’ve got two important games - I don’t know if that’s a crossroads,” Eastman said. “We have not done real well on the road and (losing two) can now put you with three losses in a row.

“Then you don’t have anything easy coming back. Your home games are with Arizona and Arizona State - and then you have the `easy’ road trip to Cal and Stanford. So we’re in a tight situation, no doubt about that.”

No doubt about his wish list, either.

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