The game ended with the ball bouncing on the floor for the last official seconds, nobody on either team caring about it anymore. By the gun, most of the players were at least pointed in the right direction for getting to the locker rooms. The UCLA players left in a daze and a hurry, as losing teams do, shuffling, eyes guarded. They paused only to receive handshakes from their conquerors, and were off.
Then the Duke players went out, hugging each other and proud, the way winning teams do. Next, the referees and the managers and the Duke coach. Vic Bubas, and the assistants and trainers left. All of a sudden the only one there, way down by the Bruins' bench, was John Wooden, the UCLA coach.
Wooden acknowledged the hometown broadcasters across the court, but before heading over for an interview he noticed various artifacts his team had left behind in its embarrassed exit. He picked up a water bottle, saw three towels and collected them also. UCLA towels are very special. Each player has his own, clipped with his name tag. The towels are carefully handled when not in use, and each player receives only his own when he calls for one. During the past two years, when UCLA was the best team in the land, it also won top honors for hygiene.
Finally, John Wooden moved up to the broadcasters, and if people had looked instead of stomping in time to the Duke band they would have noticed that there were sizable red splotches of blood on the UCLA towels. There was blood on the Carolina moon.
December 20, 1965
It had been that bad. No vendetta—just two rough, hard but fair games—but in two nights in the Carolina pines UCLA had been outplayed, outshot, outdefensed, outrebounded and outhustled. When Mike Lynn, the UCLA center, was clobbered going for a rebound late in the second game, the Bruins knew that they had been out bloodied too. The scores were 82-66 in Durham and 94-75 in Charlotte—which means that in this one lost weekend the-Bruins dropped as many games against regular varsity competition as they had since 1963. (UCLA did lose other games to Olympic-trial all-star teams, and a few weeks ago it was routed by a Los Angeles children's crusade that is headed by 7-foot-1 Lew Alcindor and goes by the name of the Brubabes, meaning UCLA freshmen. The Brubabes resemble that collection of Ohio State kids led by Jerry Lucas who won the NCAA title in their sophomore year. Next December they will entertain Duke in back-to-back games in Los Angeles.)
UCLA arrived in Durham as the No. 1 team in the land, by manifesto of the wire services. This was, however, little more than a concession to golden memories. Wooden himself admitted that it was an ersatz credit. The Bruins were still without their fine guard, Freddie Goss, who has been felled by some mysterious malady, and Gail Goodrich and Keith Erickson were gone. Goodrich and Erickson were not only All-Americas, they were absolutely typecast for the UCLA press, just about as important to the team as Laurel and Hardy were to Laurel and Hardy movies.
Goodrich and Erickson made the fabled UCLA zone press the lethal weapon that it was—Gail scrambling up front, Keith saving in the rear. Without them, Duke exposed it as no more than a nuisancy delaying action. Only six times in 75 tries in the two games did UCLA succeed in stealing the ball before the Blue Devils could clear midcourt. Only once, late in the first half of the second game, did the Bruins make it the frightening menace it used to be. Then, led by sophomore Guard Mike Warren, they forced three turnovers with the press to cut a consistently double-figure deficit to 36-33. But in two minutes Duke ran it back up to 44-37. The Blue Devils raised the margin to 16 early in the second half and settled the game. The night before, Duke had blown the game open by the half. Throughout Duke not only beat the press, but then hit the shots that quickly followed.
What Duke actually broke was not just one full-court press but four different varieties. Wooden is searching for the right press to conform to the limitations of this team, so he tried a new setup in each of the four halves. In the past two championship years he was able to pick the arrangement he thought best and stick with it for the full season.
The chief distinguishing factor in the UCLA pressing game is whether or not the individual opponent trying to throw the ball inbounds is pressed. Last year he was. The year before, the clamp came after that first pass. In the games with Duke it appeared that the new Bruins work better by contesting the inbounds pass; nevertheless, their one flurry of success, in that first half of the second game, came when they were permitting the pass in. This may be accounted for, though, by the fact that this particular press—a 2-2-1, with the middle two floating quite a bit—was better suited to picking up the Duke men slicing upcourt.
All the presses failed, because Duke was always able to locate a free man for a release pass when a trap appeared imminent. This is a tribute to the extreme coolness that the Blue Devils, and particularly Guard Steve Vacendak, exhibited under pressure. But it also showed how badly UCLA was hurt by the loss of Erickson. Edgar Lacey, a junior All-America candidate now playing Erick-son's safety-man slot, made not a single steal in either game. Duke might have been too sophisticated even for Erickson. Bubas had schooled the team meticulously in attacking the press, placing as much emphasis upon the mental approach as on tactics. Fear alone has been known to help UCLA.
Bubas had sat for long sessions at the projector, watching reruns of the Duke-UCLA championship game of 1964, which UCLA won 98-83. He convinced first himself and then his team that the press had been only incidental in the defeat. Also Bubas lectured: "Any team that plays the press is going to make it work a few times in any game. Don't get upset when that happens. Expect it." He demonstrated how it was impossible for two pressers to take the ball away from any man who would, if necessary, resign himself to the lesser of two evils and settle for a jump ball instead of a lost ball. As a final fillip, the regulars ran against a UCLA press set up by the scrubs. After the first team had cracked it about 10 straight times, Assistant Coach Chuck Daly whistled things to a halt and told everyone to hold his place. He then asked the surprised regulars to observe that they had been making it all along against a six-man scrub team. (The thought that hit everyone at once was: aha, that's the way UCLA has been doing it all along.) Anyway, the regular Devils absorbed this impressive news and went right back to breaking the six-man press.
Bubas' game strategy was neither particularly complicated nor original. Forward Jack Marin's high school team had used the same ploy, and so had Duke itself against UCLA two seasons ago. But the execution by the Blue Devils was so superb that after one early foul-up in the opening game they succeeded 32 times in a row. Vacendak was the key. "It might have been a different story without him bringing it up," UCLA Assistant Coach Jerry Norman said. Vacendak would handle the inbounds pass, then usually would get the ball back from Marin or Guard Bob Verga. He had the task of finding a way upcourt. He seldom was guilty of what Bubas calls "promiscuous dribbling," and never of panic. "The main objective of the press is not just to steal the ball," Wooden said after it was all over. "Some teams get excited and, well, lose their poise. Duke," he added, smiling, "never lost its poise."
Duke used a constant but well-planned movement against the press, with players shifting to fill spots just vacated by teammates. The Blue Devils set up in a 1-2-2, Marin and Verga split to receive the ball from Vacendak, Forward Bob Riedy and Center Mike Lewis on opposite sides around midcourt. If the ball went to Verga, Marin would cut cross-court and down. (Wooden's 2-2-1 in the first half of the second game restricted this movement best.) Vacendak would then come in for the return pass, and the big man on what had become the weak side would move in and set up a screen. This hurt UCLA considerably. "The press works best," said Wooden, "if we can keep them from bringing it up the middle."
The final Duke move was for the other big man—Riedy or Lewis, whichever was still left around midcourt—to make a V-shaped run back to distract Lacey and then go up again to midcourt on the other side, where the position had just been vacated. This man turned out, almost invariably, to be the escape man, but more often than not he was not needed—Vacendak, Verga or Marin would have dribbled free. Only seven times in the first game did Duke have to go to a third pass (and never more) after getting the ball in play.
The UCLA press has not been made passé by this weekend bout against Vacendak and friends, however. The Bruin zone had already shattered Ohio State, a plodding team, and Illinois, a fast team that got tired. Particularly if Goss comes back the Bruins may still win in the West and then would need only two victories in the NCAA final round for a third straight title. How UCLA manages against slow but big and strong Kansas this Friday in Los Angeles should indicate whether the zone is especially vulnerable now or vulnerable only to clever little devils like the Blue ones.
Both Duke and UCLA set up with close-in perimeter defenses that plugged the middle and gave away the long shot. But it was no contest. Duke can shoot, and UCLA cannot. ("We can't even hit in practice," Wooden says.) In the two games Duke took one less shot but made 11 more baskets. Though Duke almost always plays tight defense from midcourt, Bubas was able to call off that tactic and sink back throughout the competition. Wooden, though, was forced into playing close defense farther out in the second game. That was of no avail either. Duke hit 45% from outside, UCLA 34%.
Duke also ruled the boards, thanks mostly to sophomore Mike Lewis, a 6-foot-7 225-pounder who scored 16 points and had 21 rebounds (10 offensively, six of which he turned into baskets) in the Durham game. This effort demoralized UCLA as much as Vacendak's ball control. The next night Verga hit 10 for 14, Marin 10 for 15 and Riedy 6 for 10. Though the lyrics were a little different, the melody was the same as in the first dance around.
The games were played to packed houses both nights and were marred only by indications that the three Negroes from UCLA—Warren, Lacey and Kenny Washington—had been upset by crude racial taunts. If true, it was a tiny red-neck minority that shouted such epithets, though the home crowds, especially the one on the Duke campus, were extremely loud and enthusiastic.
Whatever the cause, Lacey and Washington did play atrociously in Durham, and Wooden yanked them early. He gave up wholly, it seemed, when he pulled out all of his regulars with more than 10 minutes to play and the Bruins down by 14—a deficit UCLA often has overcome. This irked many who felt that Wooden should have gone all the way with his best, but he protested that he was getting ready for conference play and that there was another game the next night to rest for. Also he said that his first team—Negro and white—was not playing very well.
The next night the rested Bruins hardly did better, and at the Charlotte Coliseum there were no racial cracks. Sadder, perhaps, were the cries from the stands that were aimed simply at individual UCLA players—as players, and as losers. Kenny Washington, struggling through a second bad game, was the particular target of one loudmouth. "Kenny shot up Duke two years ago, and this guy had not forgotten. Washington comes from just down the road, from Beaufort, S.C., and his father, other relatives and close friends were a lonely few rooting for the visitors.
Fred Washington is a Marine master sergeant with 22 years' service, and he had not seen his son play since that night two seasons ago in Kansas City against Duke. Now it was all different, and the gibes were very clear, for Master Sergeant Washington sat only 10 seats away from the fan who was letting his son have it. Fred Washington just looked straight ahead and said nothing until finally the Duke kids started chanting, "We're No. 1," and drowned out the heckler.