There were almost eight minutes left in the game last Saturday when Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, having just made his final basket in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, saw he was being replaced and ambled off the court. Fellow seniors Lynn Shackelford and Ken Heitz had preceded him to the bench amid so much admiring noise that each had to stand and wave before the crowd would quiet down. Now Alcindor's turn came, and the roar sounded as if the Indianapolis 500 race had moved indoors. It got louder still when he sat down and stuffed his long arms into his warmup jacket. Perhaps fearing the building would cave in, Coach John Wooden finally motioned to Alcindor to stand. UCLA's greatest player ever stood and pulled Heitz up with him. The two waved their index fingers at the delirious people, but the gesture was not so much a brag as a stated fact. UCLA was the No. 1 college basketball team. Then everybody relaxed as the subs finished up the job of demoralizing and demolishing Santa Clara by 38 points, 90-52.
So it is on to Louisville this week for the final rounds of the NCAA tournament in the distinguished company of Drake, Purdue and North Carolina, the first team ever to win three straight East Regionals. No matter what is tried—stalling, triple-teaming Alcindor, voodoo curses—none of the other three schools in this showdown has a chance if UCLA plays as it did against Santa Clara.
Two weeks ago, after mediocre USC had upset the Bruins with a well-run delay game, there was a strong feeling of hope among other teams. But that defeat, rather than revealing serious weaknesses, seems only to have aroused a very crotchety bear. Santa Clara, a good team that had lost only once all season and had beaten tough Weber State in overtime Thursday, was so quickly overwhelmed that it was behind 7-0 before anybody even got the ball across the midcourt line. In no time it was 11-2 and then 18-2, and any Santa Clara notions of trying to imitate USC's stall were ludicrously out of the question. The Broncos did not get one shot for the first 3½ minutes and continually lost the ball in the sticky web of the Bruins' zone press. The usually taciturn Alcindor was so loose he even smiled.
It was UCLA's most impressive victory since the massacre of Houston in the tourney last season, and it gave the Bruins' Louisville opponents, Drake on Thursday night and probably North Carolina in the finals Saturday afternoon, good reason to get their white flags ready.
March 24, 1969
"We finally played our game," said Wooden. "It was the first time we have since we clinched the tie for the conference title at Stanford [Feb. 28]. The press did it. We worked extensively on it all year—the 2-2-1 zone—but we hadn't used it in a game."
"The press tore us apart," agreed Santa Clara Coach Dick Garibaldi. "And then their shooting blasted us completely out. We never got to play the game we prepared for. They took us out, hung us on a line. We had to play UCLA's game and, men, that's murder."
There was nothing as one-sided in the East and Mideast Regionals, where North Carolina and Purdue won on last-second jump shots by juniors Charlie Scott and Rick Mount, respectively.
The East final, in College Park, Md. between Carolina and intrastate rival Davidson, was particularly heated, not only because of the proximity of the two schools but because a) Scott once signed a letter of intent with Davidson and then reneged, b) the Tar Heels edged the Wildcats in the regional last year and c) the two coaches, Dean Smith of Carolina and Lefty Driesell of Davidson, like each other about as well as two fighting cocks.
Davidson is the little school struggling against the big state power, and even before its semifinal victory over dangerous St. John's, Davidson had "Beat Carolina" scrawled on its locker-room blackboard. Each team has a black star among all the white faces, Scott for the Tar Heels and Mike Maloy for the Wildcats, and many thought it would boil down to a contest between the two. The Tar Heels also were missing their best guard, Dick Grubar, whose senior year was ended prematurely by torn cartilage in his left knee. He was in College Park on crutches. Last year it was Davidson that had to play in the regionals without one of its best players, Doug Cook.
In a classic, close game that was only slightly marred by some strange official calls, Scott outplayed Maloy and everybody else, totaling 14 of 21 shots from the floor, four of five free throws, six rebounds, four assists and 32 points. He scored 12 of North Carolina's last 17 points and flipped in the game-winning shot on a jumper with two seconds left. The final score was 87-85.
It was close all the way; no more than five points separated the teams in the first half, and Carolina's gangling Bill Bunting, a flamingo who looks as if he has about five extra vertebrae in his neck, was doing a good job on Maloy and hitting well with his own jump shot. The Tar Heels led at halftime 47-46. Maloy asserted himself more in the second half (he finished with 25 points) to help keep it close, but an offensive penalty gave Carolina possession with 1:05, and the Tar Heels killed the clock until time for Scott's big shot.
Carolina's semifinal victory over Duquesne was no easier and, in fact, was one point closer, 79-78. The Dukes, tall and brawny, looked like a weight-lifting team that had lumbered into the wrong gym, and Tar Heel Center Rusty Clark, not about to let any bullies kick sand in his face, was at times so busy retaliating that he forgot about the game. Once he dribbled toward the hoop, stopped, dug his left elbow into the gut of 6'9" Garry Nelson—a Duquesne strongman—and was caught by surprise when Nelson backed off. Clark stumbled past the basket, fell full length across the press table at the court's end and never did get off his shot.
After leading at halftime 48-41, Carolina increased the margin to a comfortable 14 points with a little more than 12 minutes left. Then the Dukes started throwing in baskets after Bunting fouled out. Scott, who earlier had been upset when John Roche, a white New Yorker at South Carolina, was named MVP in the Atlantic Coast Conference, had to save Carolina's neck again, not by shooting this time but by twice feeding sophomore Lee Dedmon for easy goals in the last 27 seconds. He said later: "I wanted to win for the team, not the conference."
In the Mideast Regional at Madison, Wis., Purdue did not meet Kentucky in the finals as expected, because Adolph Rupp's Wildcats were beaten Thursday night by the expatriate New Yorkers of Marquette 81-74. Dan Issel, Kentucky's All-America center with the Holland Tunnel smile (he plays without his false front teeth), was held to just two field-goal attempts in the second half and 13 points overall, a bit more than half of what he usually scores. "Marquette did a fine job on Issel," growled Rupp afterward, "but we did even better. We didn't give him the ball."
Marquette Coach Al McGuire made sure his players did not forget last year's regional in Lexington, Ky., when their star, George Thompson, was "Mickey Moused" out of the game early with fouls and Kentucky won handily. Rupp insisted he was "too old for feuds," but bad feeling was evident on the court and there were a couple of near fights.
"This was for revenge," said Dean Meminger, a sophomore who scored 20 points but did not even play in the game last year. "Our primary objective in this tournament was to beat Kentucky," said Thompson.
That holy mission accomplished, Marquette very nearly reached its secondary objective Saturday afternoon and would have except for Purdue's depth and Rick Mount's amazing shooting. Mount's eyes are so nicely attuned to the hoop that he can tell if anything is even slightly out of kilter. Warming up in Iowa's gym earlier this month, he took a few 30-foot shots, stared at the basket a moment, then walked over to Coach George King. "Coach, the rim of the basket isn't level," he said. "It's a little high in front." Iowa officials insisted that could not be but got out a stepladder and tape measure and checked anyway. Sure enough, the rim was half an inch too high in front and was promptly fixed. Mount scored 43 points that night.
Against Marquette, Purdue was without its starting center, 7-footer Chuck Bavis, who injured his collarbone in the easy semifinal win over Miami of Ohio, and the Boilermakers had only the part-time services of their leading rebounder, Herm Gilliam, who has a bad ankle. But Purdue's talent runs so deep that it can lose a 7' pivotman and its best all-round player and still be fearsome.
Marquette seemed to be just as hopped up as it had been against the bluegrass boys and battled Purdue to a draw, 63-63, in regulation time. The Warriors might have won it—but Meminger missed a free throw, and Ric Cobb, with a chance to win the game by making two more foul shots, blew the second.
In the overtime the two teams exchanged baskets and free throws until it was 73-73 with 26 seconds left and the Boilermakers, with possession, took time out. Everybody in Wisconsin's old, drafty field house knew who would take the last shot—Rick the Rocket. Mount, when it was time, dribbled to the right side, lost his defender on Jerry Johnson's pick and found himself all alone 20 feet from the basket, which is as good as 20 inches for anyone else. His jump shot swished through, and for the 20th time in 31 seasons a representative of the Big Ten was in the final four.
In the Midwest Regional at Manhattan, Kans., Drake's idea was to get the ball to Guard Willie McCarter. The strategy worked for a victory over Colorado State 84-77. McCarter, maneuvering for one-on-one situations outside and hitting regularly from 15 to 20 feet out, scored 21 points. Coach Jim Williams tried to slow things down midway in the second half after his Colorado State Rams, still very much in the game, got into foul trouble. But Drake Coach Maurice John countered with a full-court man-to-man press, which got the tempo back up to Drake's liking.
The Bulldogs like a fast tempo in the locker room, too, which is why Dolph Pulliam, ace defensive forward, takes his tape recorder and 30 minutes of tapes wherever the team goes. "We've won our conference and our regional and so we think we have a right to demand respect," said Pulliam over the din of the music. "If they don't give it to us they'd better look out. I can't think of a better way of getting our 13th straight than by beating UCLA." Drake is good, all right, but the only likely way Pulliam's dream can come true is if he uses his tape recorder to hit Alcindor over the head. The Bulldogs seem to be ill-equipped, despite John's eight or nine different offenses, to slow down the game a la USC.
North Carolina, the Bruins' likely opponent in the grand finale, is capable, however. The Tar Heels have practiced and used their Four Corner delay offense all season, and they have the height—6'10" Clark, 6'8" Bunting and 6'10" Dedmon—should they choose to surround Alcindor on defense. The two teams met in the finals in Los Angeles last year, and Carolina trailed by only 35-27 when Bunting got his fourth foul with 17 minutes left. If any team in the country can do it now it is North Carolina, if it does not overlook Purdue in the semifinals and if it does not miss Dick Grubar's defense and fast-break leadership too much—and if Alcindor gets too lackadaisical. Carolina Coach Smith is probably iffing himself to sleep these nights.
But when the last buzzer sounds and the nets get cut down for use as victory ornamentation, the Bruins most likely will be wearing them. It would be the third NCAA title in a row for UCLA and the fifth in six years. And Alcindor, the quiet young man from New York City who made it possible, will at last have used up his eligibility, to the immense relief of college coaches everywhere.
"We've got seven more days," said Alcindor, who had to worry about two final examinations and a term paper before boarding the plane for Louisville. "This is the big one. No one has ever won three straight. We want three straight."