When it mattered most today, Purdue all-American center Joe Barry Carroll could not make a short hook shot. When it mattered most seconds later, three different UCLA players shot eight for eight from the foul line.
Because the unheralded Bruins made the shots when they had to, they will play Louisville for the NCAA basketball title Monday night after surviving a bruising semifinal, 67-62, against Purdue.
"We struggled," said an exhausted UCLA Coach Larry Brown. "But that's the way this team has been all year. We struggle, we make mistakes. But when it was all on the line, the kids did what they had to."
It was all on the line during the final 3:40. This was not a pretty game by any means, but UCLA, controlling Carroll throughout, had taken the lead early at 5-4 and never gave it up.
in fact, the Bruins led by as many as 10 nine minutes into the second half and still led by seven with five minutes left to play.
But then bad things started to happen to UCLA. Point guard Rod Foster fouled out with 4:49 left and, suddenly, the Purdue press became a factor. Before the Bruins knew what hit them they had turned over the ball twice and Purdue guard Brian Walker had converted six straight foul shots to narrow UCLA's lead to 57-56 with 3:40 left.
"We're not usually a good comeback team but we came back well today and had a chance to take the lead," said Walker. "That's why this feels so bad."
After Walker's free throws, UCLA called a timeout and Brown ordered a semistall: layups only.
Mike Sanders, second-high man for the Bruins with 12 points (Kiki Vandeweghe had 24), found himself underneath. Carroll, a step late, fouled him and with 3:20 left Sanders made both shots.
UCLA wasn't out of the woods yet. After the teams traded misses, Purdue managed to get the ball inside to Carroll for a soft 10-footer to make it 59-58 with 2:40 to go.
"UCLA did a tremendous job keeping the ball away from Joe Barry," Purdue Coach Lee Rose said. "Their quickness on defense was definitely a major factor. Toward the end we just had to get it to him even if we chanced a turnover."
After Carroll's basket, UCLA again went to the semistall. This time Cliff Pruitt got open. But his short bank shot wouldn't go down and Drake Morris rebounded for Purdue.
"That's when I looked up and saw my wife's head into her hands," Brown said.
Barbara Brown could have watched.
The boilermakers came down, set their offense and got the ball to Carroll on the right baseline. Less than 10 feet from the hoop, Carrol turned, jumped and shot, flicking a soft pushhook -- seemingly toward the bottom of the net.
The shot never reached its destination, rimming out. Sanders grabbed the rebound and immediately was fouled by Carroll.
There still was 1:51 on the clock but, unbeknownst to the crowd of 16,637, the Boilermakers had just had their last hurrah.
Sanders made both foul shots -- the first one just creeping over the rim -- and it was 61-58. Carroll got the last of his 17 points (Keith Edmonson led Purdue with 23) when Pruitt was called for goaltending.It was 61-60 with 1:31 left.
Now, UCLA went into a complete stall. Walker finally fouled Michael Holton with 53 seconds left and Rose called a timeout to let Holton think about the situation.
Edmonson's final basket cut it to 65-62 with 28 seconds left but the Bruins broke the press and got the ball back to Vandeweghe, who was fouled for the last time with 20 seconds left.
By now there was almost no suspense left. Vandeweghe's last two free throws were the final points of the game.
When it was over Brown leaped into the arms of freshman guard Darren Daye; leaped into the arms of his assistant, Larry Farmer, then ran the length of the court to shake hands with Carroll.
"I got excited," he said. "This is special for me being able to share this with these kids. I'm not even going to think about Louisvill tonight. I want to enjoy this."
How Carroll felt about the whole thing; about being pummeled inside all day by the UCLA players; about missing the crucial shot or about losing, is destined to remain a mystery.
"No interviews, I don't want to talk," Carroll said curtly to those approaching him in the hall. With that he walked away, making it 31 of 32 games this season that he has refused to talk to the press. He did talk last Saturday after Purdue won the Mideast Regional. After that splurge Rose accused the press of treating Carroll unfairly for not talking in the past.
If Carroll felt anything like his teammates he was distressed. Most of the Purdue players felt they played poorly.
"We played today like this was our third or fourth game of the season," said Arnette Hallman. "We played so poorly our execution just wasn't there. I feel personally I played a bad game.