They arrive in Louisville for the final round of the NCAA this way, as described by Milton in Paradise Lost:
Hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions fierce,
Strive here for mast'ry.
Hot is for Houston, a team decked out in traveling blazers of blazing red, with players named The Savage and The Duck and a coach, Guy Lewis, who wears a lucky jacket himself—the material from England, the tailoring done in Houston and good fortune in its fibers. The three times Lewis has failed to wear the jacket on the road his team has lost. Every time he has worn it the Cougars have won. In Lawrence, Kans. last weekend they beat Kansas on its home floor and then SMU.
Cold is for North Carolina, for the chilly, clear facts of history. The last time the Tar Heels got this far was exactly a decade ago, when they cooled off their hot style and beat a 7-footer named Chamberlain and his favored Kansas team. Last weekend Carolina beat Princeton in overtime, then routed Boston College.
Moist is for Dayton, for Coach Don Donoher, who got thrown in the shower for the first time when his surprise team won the Mideast Regionals, and for the Flyers themselves, who have sweated their way this far with overtime victories over Western Kentucky and Virginia Tech and a one-point win over Tennessee.
Dry is for UCLA, as in, simply, cut-and-dried, which is how the Bruins beat everybody. The most recent victims were Wyoming and Pacific in the Western Regionals.
When fierce champions get together this weekend, figure on dry. Not the mysteries of superstition, not the lessons of the past, not even the wonderful fervor that surrounds the underdog seem likely to affect the probability that UCLA is the most impressive college team of all time. At Corvallis, Ore. last weekend Wyoming was behind 30-6 almost before a breath was drawn. The final score was 109-60. The Bruins used their old favorite, the full-court zone press, to best advantage in this game, causing 19 turnovers by Wyoming. Well ahead, the Bruins moved into a three-one-one zone that gives away corner shots but closes off nearly everything else. Lew Alcindor plays the last "one." Coach John Wooden calls that "a great psychological barrier."
Saturday night, against Pacific—which had put out defending champion Texas Western the night before—the Bruins had one of their stronger tests of the year and still won 80-64. This time they used a man-to-man in the first half, a two-one-two zone in the second. Lucius Allen started the scoring with a free throw and one UCLA fan yelled, "Game's over." It was close enough to the truth to cause even a referee to laugh.
Despite the fact that Pacific's fine center, Keith Swagerty, was playing with an injured ankle and had a wisdom-tooth infection lanced a few hours before game time, Pacific actually outrebounded UCLA 50-35. No one knows how to interpret these figures. Do they constitute a ray of hope? "UCLA can be beaten by a good team on a given night," Coach Dick Edwards of Pacific said. But where is this given night that keeps popping up in rhetoric but nowhere else? In fact, do those rebound figures suggest that there is no hope at all? Because if a team can manage to beat UCLA off the boards by 15 and still lose by 16, what is left? The answer is especially significant for UCLA's opponent this Friday night in Louisville, the hot Houstons.
SMU Coach Doc Hayes, whose team went down valiantly 83-75 to Houston, said afterward: "We faced Bill Russell and San Francisco in 1956 and we faced Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in 1957, but I'm not so sure that this team isn't more powerful than either." The Cougars handled SMU off the boards 52-38, held SMU to 41% from the floor and All-America Elvin Hayes took care of the rest. The Huge E outshone Westley Unseld of Louisville and everybody else in this Regional, scoring 31 against SMU and 19 in the Friday-night win over Kansas. The Houston triumph over Kansas was as unexpected as SMU's last-second win over Louisville.
More significant, perhaps, than the upsets was the yo-yo manner in which several of the games were played. With the exception of UCLA's two wins and North Carolina's stunning 96-80 rout of Boston College, there was no game in which a team showed the ability to get ahead and take over. Every time someone opened up a big lead, it was a prelude to collapse. St. John's, for example, led BC 50-41 with 6:18 left and lost in the last minute. Carolina had several six-point advantages over Princeton and lost them all before coming back in overtime. Houston had Kansas beaten by 10 and saw that dwindle to four before winning 66-53. The next night Houston had SMU 62-48, and six minutes later it was 71-71. SMU trailed by eight with 5:47 left against Louisville, then won in the last seconds. Virginia Tech led Dayton 62-52 with 8:14 remaining and finally lost in overtime. It was great for spectators, hell on coaches.
Much of this was inexplicable, too. Louisville shot 56% from the floor against SMU, and 36% from the free-throw line. Boston College shot 29% from the field, but 86% from the free-throw line. The Eagles hit their last 21 in a row to beat St. John's.
Dayton, which plays man-to-man defense about 80% of the time, used a one-two-two zone to beat Tennessee. The switch gave the Vols the baseline, but scouting reports had indicated (correctly) that Tennessee did not drive well. Houston dropped its pressing defenses for only the second time in five years and beat Kansas with a straight zone. The Jayhawks, who have overpowered opponents all year, could not loft the ball over the tall Texans in order to get it inside. Similarly, Boston College, bigger than most of its earlier opponents, simply could not match up against North Carolina and had to move into a zone—without success. The key in that game was Carolina's Bob Lewis, who went through the most startling transformation of the tournament. A high-scoring forward last year, Lewis was shifted to guard and had more playmaking responsibilities this season. Recently he had tried to regain some of his shooting skill, but his whole game and his confidence had deteriorated. He made only seven points in regulation time against Princeton, and while he did get seven more in the overtime—including a three-point play that put Carolina on top for good—it did little to assuage his self-doubts. "This was going to be my livelihood," he moaned. "I'll never make a nickel out of this game if I go on like this." He asked Coach Dean Smith for a special shooting practice Saturday morning. Smith denied permission. "It isn't your shooting, Bob," said Smith. "Now it's all in your head."
The head cleared just in time. Carolina was down 12-3 to BC when Lewis made two foul shots, then broke away for a basket. The Tar Heels were off with him. Moving underneath when a little guard was on him and outside with a bigger man, Lewis hit 11 of 18 shots for 31 points, and had six assists besides. With Lewis' All-America partner, Larry Miller, adding 22, Carolina showed the form necessary to take it past Dayton to the finals. In the game with Dayton Lewis, 6'3", probably will be guarded by Bob Hooper, who is only 6 feet but held Virginia Tech's 6'2" Glen Combs to 16 points after Combs had thrown in 29 against Indiana. Moreover, Combs made five of his seven baskets against Dayton in a short stretch when Hooper and the Flyers were playing more of a slough-off defense. Miller will be guarded by Dan Sadlier, one of Dayton's two sophomore starters.
Carolina did a fine job of stopping BC's high-scoring forward, Steve Adelman. The Tar Heels played him close, preferring to let him drive, and he had only four for 12 from the floor. But Dayton's marvelous Don May, a 6'4", 218-pound left-hander, presents a more complex problem. Like Lewis, May suddenly came alive Saturday night. After a desultory two-for-10 shooting performance against Tennessee, he made 28 points against Tech, and the Flyers played to him repeatedly during their comeback. Tar Heel sophomores Bill Bunting and Joe Brown, who handled Adelman most of the time, probably will split the assignment on May.
Carolina sophomore Rusty Clark will give Miller more help on the boards than May gets. Clark pulled down 18 rebounds against BC—most of them, it seemed, after he and Adelman got riled up and traded a couple of good solid blows. That stirred Rusty. Ironically, a continent away, Alcindor was struggling to contain himself against the tough Pacific frontline. "They're big," he said. "When it got muscular in there, I tried to keep my temper. It's happened before, but there's not much you can do about it." This appears to be a rather wistful complaint from anyone who is so personally involved with the rough business of rebounding. Certainly it will be just as muscular underneath against Houston. The Cougars have Hayes, 6'8", Don Kruse, 6'8", and Melvin Bell, 6'7", up front.
Coach Lewis figures he must depend on his strength, and vows that there will be no tricky stuff. "We'll play them honest," he says. The success of the Houston zone against Kansas may encourage Lewis to trot it out against UCLA. The Bruins can set up in any defense, without too much concern about Houston's weak outside shooting.
UCLA will also be in better shape this weekend than last, when the players were devoting much of their time and thought to exams. Alcindor missed one practice, as did several others, and some of the Bruins even had to take exams after flying to Corvallis on Thursday. The tests, sealed, were shipped to Oregon, along with proctors to oversee them.
While the Houston-UCLA match is liable to be freewheeling and high scoring, a UCLA final with Carolina could be a fascinating battle of wits. Dean Smith would surely come up with a surprise—possibly a variation of his four-corner game, which spreads four men out and leaves either Miller or Lewis in the middle, looking for a one-on-one break. This offense is often used to stall if the Tar Heels are ahead, but it does not necessarily dictate a stalling game. What it does, in effect, is force the defense to contest the issue.
Carolina also offers a collection of talismans, superstitions and burnt offerings that make Coach Lewis' lucky coat seem pale by comparison. Assistant Coach Larry Brown has a 10-0 game record while wearing a white tie. His wife, all alone at home, puts on a special maternity dress to watch the game on television. Miller used to wear a St. Christopher's medal given to him by his mother. It was torn off in the Duke game two weeks ago, and a strange woman suddenly appeared at a Carolina pep rally with a new one for him. In the meantime he had retrieved the one he had lost. So now he wears two St. Christopher's medals. They clang about his neck, fair warning to evil spirits.
But what about Alcindor? Seattle's Lionel Purcell says run on him. Bob Boyd, whose Southern California team came closest to beating UCLA, advocates the ploy he used in that game: "Be ball-control-conscious," he says. "And you must zone and double-team Lew." Pete Newell, the California athletic director, thinks that's ridiculous "What good does it do," he asks, "putting a man in front of Alcindor so he can play his belly button?" Newell also votes against a press, because the UCLA guards, notably Mike Warren, would break it in a moment. Says Red Auerbach: "You might be able to congest the middle." Pause. "No, Alcindor is so big and strong, he'd still get the ball and you would be just fouling and fouling trying to keep him from getting it."
Mark an X in the box next to the answer you prefer and then go on to the next quandary.