INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be beyond fantasy, well beyond even Princeton coach Pete Carril's wildest dreams. Somehow, the little team and the little coach who's made a career out of making magic with mirrors and moondust, did it again last night.
In one of the wildest and most improbable endings in the recent history of the NCAA tournament, the 13th-seeded Tigers scored the last nine points to upset defending national champion UCLA, 43-41, in the opening round of the Southeast Regional at the RCA Dome.
A backdoor layup by freshman forward Gabe Lewullis with 3.9 seconds to play put Princeton ahead and proved to be the winning basket.
The Bruins called timeout, and the clock registered 1.3 seconds. After a lengthy discussion, the officials put the clock back to 2.2 seconds.
Cameron Dollar inbounded the ball to Toby Bailey in the corner, but one of the heroes of last year's championship game victory over Arkansas fired up a 20- foot airball. Princeton got the rebound and started a wild, though brief, celebration at midcourt.
The victory for the Tigers prolonged Carril's 30-year coaching career for at least one more game. It also made up for all of his team's narrow defeats in the NCAA tournament, most notably a one-point loss to Georgetown in 1989.
The 65-year-old coach, who announced after his team won the Ivy League that he'd be retiring after the tournament, will get another shot to add to his legacy of upsets of more highly-ranked teams. The Tigers will play fifth-seeded Mississippi State in the second round tomorrow.
"Maybe if we play UCLA 100 times, they win 99 times, but tonight we did," said Carril. "This keeps me from going into
retirement. I'm happy about that. It's a great win for this team more than it is for myself."
The defeat ended UCLA's reign as national champions. It was the earliest exit by a defending champion since Indiana, also seeded fourth, lost to Richmond in the opening round of the 1988 tournament.
"I'm going to congratulate Petey and Princeton, they played great," said UCLA coach Jim Harrick. "We had our chances to win and we didn't get it done. They played a very inspired game, especially down the stetch when we had a seven -point lead."
Asked if he got outcoached by Carril, Harrick grew testy.
"I don't think you understand what coaching is about to ask that question," snapped Harrick, who had taken his share of criticism for his team's early tournament exits prior to last year's championship.
It brought back bitter memories from two years ago, when the Bruins lost to Tulsa in the opening round.
When UCLA inbounded the ball after Lewullis' basket on a play Princeton patented under Carril Dollar had thoughts of doing what former Bruins star Tyus Edney did last year. Edney went from end to end in 4.6 seconds and scored at the buzzer to beat Missouri in the first round.
But Harrick had other ideas, and called timeout.
"I wanted us to get a good shot," he said.
Said Dollar, "We had four options, we just didn't score."
After making UCLA sweat for most of the game, the Tigers seemingly had run out of miracles when they fell behind, 41-34 with a little over six minutes to play.
But Princeton ran off the first seven points in its game-ending run, tying the score on a layup by Baltimore's Sydney Johnson with 2: 57 to go. Johnson led Princeton with 11 points.
After a miss by Bailey, Johnson missed an 16-footer for the Tigers. But the ball was tapped the back out. This time, Lewullis missed an open three with 1: 46 remaining.
UCLA called timeout with 1: 38 to play. With the crowd booing the Bruins, Bailey rammed inside and was called for a charge with 1: 22 to go. Sophomore guard Mitch Henderson had an open three, but passed it back to Johnson, who wasn't expecting the ball and mishandled the pass.
Johnson was called for intentionally fouling Dollar, but the UCLA point guard missed both free throws. The Bruins retained possession with 61 seconds to go, but Kris Johnson missed a short jumper in the lane with 41 second left. The Tigers got the rebound and called time with 21 seconds left.
It set up Lewullis' backdoor layup.
"The one time I went backdoor, O'Bannon played that pretty well," said Lewullis, a freshman forward. "So I went back out to the three-point line and he followed me out. I went back door again and Steve (Goodrich) made a great pass."
Said O'Bannon, "It was a great play.. For me, it's over and done. We're looking forward to next year. We've got a lot of work ahead of us this summer."
Carril can look back on last night with the fondest of memories, but he probably won't. But this friendly curmudgeon certainly enjoyed his latest and possibly his last moment in the spotlight. It will only grow more intense should the Tigers beat Mississippi State to advance to next week's Sweet 16 in Lexington, Ky.
So will Princeton's confidence.
"When you play games like this matter what I tell them you don't have a chance unless you believe," said Carril, who won for the 525th time in his career.
Said Johnson, the junior point guard from Towson Catholic, "People love this like they love a fairy talent. I think the crowd wanted to share this with us. I think that the way Princeton has played in the past has given a lot of low seeds confidence. We're the originals."
Just like Carril, the coach who makes magic out of mirrors and moondust.
Pub Date: 3/15/96