Arkansas and UCLA in final history study END OF THE ROAD NCAA TORNAMENT

SEATTLE — SEATTLE -- This is about dynasties, both wannabes and used-to-bes. It is about ghosts, the biggest of whom might be here in person at the Kingdome for tonight's NCAA tournament championship game between Arkansas and UCLA. It is also about history, ancient and future.

L The defending champion Razorbacks will be trying to make it.


The top-ranked Bruins will be trying to relive it.

A victory for Arkansas (32-6) will will put the Razorbacks in a select group of teams who have won back-to-back national titles, making them only the second in the past 21 seasons to do it.


A victory for UCLA (30-2) will give the Bruins their record 11th national title in school history, but their first since John Wooden closed out his legendary coaching career in Westwood 20 years ago.

Wooden, now 84, said during a nationally televised interview at yesterday's McDonald's high school all-star game in St. Louis that he'd be at tonight's game. It would mark his first appearance at a Final Four game since he and his late wife, Nell, were in attendance here when Georgetown beat Houston for the championship 10 years ago.

"I called his daughter and talked to her," said UCLA coach Jim Harrick, who is a close friend of Wooden's. "I really don't know what his plans are to come. She said he had a ticket."

Asked what it would mean to have Wooden at the game, Harrick said, "I have said all along that the biggest thrill is having him come to our [home] games. We have embraced him in our program. We want him with us."

There is also the possibility, though more remote, of Arkansas' most famous fan showing up. A year ago, Bill Clinton came with his family to the Midwest Regional final in Dallas and to both the NCAA semifinal and final in Charlotte, N.C., where he spoke to the Razorbacks after their championship game victory over Duke. There has been no word from the White House.

"I don't think it has anything to do with the game," Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said yesterday. "You see the game is played on the floor. Once the ball is thrown up, they don't care who is in the gym."

More important to the outcome of tonight's game is the health of Bruins point guard Tyus Edney. The 5-foot-10 senior, who has become the most valuable player in UCLA's tournament run, sustained a sprained right wrist in Saturday's 74-61 semifinal victory over Oklahoma State.

Despite suffering the injury after taking a spill during the first half, Edney wound up with 21 points and sparked a 12-0 run that closed out the game for the Bruins. Edney will be the key to breaking Arkansas' press. Edney failed to attend yesterday's news conference while getting treatment for the wrist at the nearby University of Washington.


Asked if there's any chance Edney won't play tonight, Harrick said, "I think there's no doubt that Tyus will play."

The matchup between UCLA and Arkansas is also about two hot teams trying to slow down, and ultimately stop, the other. The Bruins have won 18 straight games. The Razorbacks, with a fair amount of luck, have won 15 of their last 16 this season and 11 straight in the tournament over the past two years.

"We realize the team we're playing is a great basketball team, the defending champions," Harrick said yesterday. "They have got two back-to-back 30-win seasons. It's an unbelievable accomplishment to see a team that has won it come back with the focus and hunger to do it again. And rarely, if you've noticed, has anybody done that since Coach Wooden retired."

Since the Bruins won seven straight championships between 1967 and 1973, it has been done only once -- by Duke in 1991 and 1992. In fact, the only team other than the Blue Devils to win the title one year and play for it the next during the past two decades was Georgetown.

But the Razorbacks have a clear message for those college hoopafiles out there: They don't care about history.

"They won a lot of national championships, but none of those players were on those teams," said junior forward Scotty Thurman, whose three-point shot in last year's NCAA final against Duke helped Arkansas win its first national championship. "We feel they're a great team, but we're a great team too."


They are a team that has taken a roller coaster to get here. It is a team that lost its season-opener to Massachusetts by 24 points, looked distracted at other times during the regular season, lost in overtime to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game and has gone down to the wire in all five of its NCAA tournament games, twice winning in overtime.

Either the Razorbacks finally will run out of luck -- which included a 50-foot shot by reserve forward Dwight Stewart at the halftime buzzer in Saturday night's 75-68 semifinal victory over North Carolina -- or they finally might run over their opponent, something they haven't done often this year.

It could be that the Bruins are due for a loss -- their last defeat was Jan. 28 at home to Cal -- or just overdue for a national championship. It is something Harrick has heard about throughout his seven years, something his players have been reminded of since they walked onto the floor at Pauley Pavilion and saw all the banners.

"It's very motivating," said senior All-American Ed O'Bannon. "There is such a great tradition and we have a chance to be part of it. When you talk to people who've been around UCLA, they talk about the teams in the past. We have a chance to become one of those teams."

The possible appearance by Wooden was somewhat unexpected. After Wooden declined Harrick's invitation to last week's West Regional final in Oakland, Harrick figured that Wooden would not be here. Asked if he'd have the most famous of all college coaches talk with his team before the game, Harrick would only say, "Maybe."

Said sophomore forward Charles O'Bannon, "For myself, I have a lot of respect for Coach Wooden. I think he is the greatest coach of all time. I would be honored to hear whatever he would have to say to us. "


If Wooden does talk to these Bruins, he might not talk about dynasties. Or ghosts. But he might talk about history. Reliving it for UCLA. Making it for Arkansas.