A lot of people have already conceded three perfect seasons and three national championships to UCLA. The assumptions are not illogical but neither one is a cinch. Somewhere, some dark night when the moon is full and the wolves are howling, when the stands are packed and the referees are grumpy, when the Bruins have had a bumpy trip and are plagued by head colds, neuritis and neuralgia, when certain stars are perfectly aligned through the monoliths of Stonehenge, UCLA will be beaten. But it will require all of those contingencies plus a good team in opposition.
Only the fact that senior Edgar Lacey is out for the season because of a hairline knee fracture allows a smidgen of doubt to arise about the Bruins' invincibility. Without Lacey, they will not be as deep in the corners, and that makes it possible for a team with an array of agile big men to wear down UCLA.
The Bruins, however, will never be just Lew Alcindor and Friends. In fact, Coach John Wooden is making only a few concessions to Lew's presence. Alcindor will play a low post on offense, and the cutting guards will steer clear of him so as not to crowd his territory. On normal defense he will pretty much play a one-man zone under the basket despite efforts to draw him out. Otherwise there will be little change from the familiar, successful UCLA game. If opponents try to let the air out of the ball, the Bruins will press with a half-court trap. And UCLA will use the zone press as it always has—after it scores and as a surprise at other times. Rival coaches can thank themselves in part for this treat. Wooden was not absolutely certain that he should press with this team until he noticed that in the middle of every conversation with another coach the fellow would suddenly blurt out: "Hey, you're not going to press with Alcindor, are you?" After a while it began to sound sort of like: "Hey, you're not going to try to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown, are you?" Wooden decided to zone-press.
Alcindor prepped for the assignment by playing a man-to-man press in high school and with the 21-0 Brubabes last year. Depending on where he is when the Bruins score, he will play either the safety-man position or at the extreme other end of the court, covering the man who is trying to throw the ball in bounds. Getting the ball past Alcindor's wingspread may quickly rank with getting a camel through the eye of a needle.
Lew's offensive moves should be just as awesome. "They talk about raising the baskets," says Forrest Twogood, the assistant athletic director at Southern Cal. "How would that help? What we ought to do is stick the basket in the floor, like in golf. That way, at least it should take him longer to lean over and stuff it in." At any rate, containing Alcindor is half the problem. All the Bruins are good.
Mike Lynn, 6-7, is certainly the most underrated senior player in the country. He was the team's high scorer and top rebounder last year and is a fine shot from the high post. He gleefully anticipates being the prime beneficiary, at that spot, when opponents double up on big Lew. The other returning starter, handsome Mike Warren, is the best of a host of good guards. He is a steady playmaker who can also shoot and play defense. With him there are Don Saffer, Bill Sweek (who sat out last year) and two other hotshot sophomores—flashy Lucius Allen and Kenny Heitz, an honor student. Lacey's departure may require Heitz to swing between forward and guard while southpaw Lynn Shackelford, still a fourth sophomore, inherits Lacey's starting spot opposite Lynn.
Allen will almost certainly take over as the other starting guard. He must learn only how to blend his individual brilliance into the general team blitz without sacrificing any facet of either. Aside from 7-foot L.A., this 6-2 L.A. was considered by many to be the best high school player in the land two years ago when he was a seniorat Wyandotte in Kansas City, Kans. He had his eyes—now often hidden behind blue shades—cast toward Westwood for a long time. At Wyandotte, they called him "LuCLA." Allen says, "Now I'm mostly 'Lucius.' We've got a Lew here." Altogether, they've got Mike, Mike Lynn, Lynn, Lu and LewCLA.
RECORD VS. NONCONFERENCE TEAMS