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UCLA's Dollar: money player

Shortly before Thursday night's Midwest Regional semifinal, UCLA coach Steve Lavin excitedly presented point guard Cameron Dollar with an autograph.

It was from Jim Plunkett, the former Stanford and NFL star quarterback who, despite not possessing the prettiest throwing motion or the tightest spiral, found ways to win.

Which is precisely how Lavin sees Dollar, his team's quarterback.

"He can barely jump over a couple Ritz crackers," Lavin said. "He's not going to beat you with blinding speed. But because of his heart, his toughness, his intelligence, he's able to overcome some of those things he lacks in terms of just gifts. He's battled hard."

Dollar, a senior who's perennially dogged by doubts about his skills, especially on the offensive end, does know how to win games.

Big games.

Remember, he was pressed into replacing star Tyus Edney in the 1995 title game against defending national champion Arkansas and finished with eight assists, six points, four steals and three rebounds in 36 nearly flawless minutes as the Bruins won 89-78.

Then Thursday against Iowa State, Dollar was on the money like never before.

He scored a career-high 20 points, including back-to-back three-pointers that helped erase a 16-point second-half deficit, then hit the shot that sent UCLA into today's regional final against Minnesota.

With the Bruins down 73-72 and 10 seconds left in overtime, Dollar took the inbounds pass, drove by Jacy Holloway downcourt and, just as 6-foot-11 shot-blocking wiz Kelvin Cato stepped up, he floated a one-handed shot over him and off the glass with 1.9 seconds left.

That play was ominously reminiscent of Edney's length-of-the-court, driving basket that stunned Missouri 75-74 in the second round of the 1995 tournament.

"If he blocks it, he blocks it, and we go home," said Dollar, whose brother Chad played for South Florida. "If I make it, we advance. In that kind of situation, you're fortunate the shot goes in, but at the same time, the only thing you're thinking about is making sure that you go down swinging."

Like Jim Plunkett?

"Coach Lavin loves Jim Plunkett, and he's always comparing me to him," Dollar said, smiling. " I never really saw him that much. But he's a winner, and if he wants to compare me to a winner, I'm thankful."

As for a quarterback, Dollar always admired former Redskin Billy Kilmer.

"He just kept getting wrecked, getting his head knocked off, and he kept getting up passing," Dollar said.

Like Kilmer, Dollar's nothing if not a fighter.

Dollar's father, Donald, a high school basketball coach in Atlanta, had one rule _ If you start something, stick with it and give it your best effort. No matter what.

As a second-grader, Dollar decided to take up the violin. By the second day, he was ready to quit. His father made him keep at it for a year, during which the youngster had to withstand the daily ribbing he received when he walked on the school bus with a violin case tucked under his arm.

"I'd get in fights every day because of that," he said.

His biggest battle, however, was this season.

After an injury-plagued junior year, Dollar started this season so poorly that Lavin, who said he would like to hire Dollar as an assistant one day, sat him down next to the current assistants at the beginning of the Pac-10 schedule.

Another player might have sunk into a funk.

Dollar stuck with it. He had to, and the Bruins had to have him do that.

"I'm a player," he said simply.

Not only did his playmaking improve upon his return to the starting lineup on Jan. 11, but he also became more aggressive on the offensive end, looking for more shots.

"It's learning and maturing, realizing that if I want to get my guys open even more so, then I have to take some of the pressure off them by scoring some more," he said.

He has scored in double figures seven times in the past 12 games and averaged 10.5 in that stretch, all UCLA wins. He had six double-figure games through his first three seasons.

"I've always had confidence in his shooting, he's always had confidence and the coaching staff has had confidence in his shooting," said senior forward Charles O'Bannon, his roommate.

Apparently, Iowa State wasn't as sure of Dollar's touch. The Cyclones, who led the Big 12 in scoring defense and were third nationally, focused on containing O'Bannon and junior guard Toby Bailey.

"We just wanted him to beat us, and he went out and did it," Holloway said.

"I don't know why Iowa State was laying off him," Minnesota guard Bobby Jackson said. "We're not going to lay off of him. I think he's the heart and soul of that team."

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