Surely somebody is going to stop UCLA—a greedy gaggle of Bruins if ever there was one—from taking home its seventh national title in eight years. Brigham Young, maybe, with a center who could make both All-Yugoslavia and All-America. Or Western Kentucky, with a seven-footer who shoots from the corners. Or Pennsylvania, an Ivy League team that is so tough it beat Duquesne last weekend despite a hostile bottle-and-can-tossing crowd and a guerrilla-warfare defense.
Just a few weeks ago the prospects of an early Bruin demise seemed reasonably favorable. Notre Dame had actually beaten them once and USC had them on the ropes before collapsing in the last nine minutes. Washington lost to them by only two points. Maybe that was when the Bruins decided it was time to ditch the hibernating bit. Whatever the cause, they woke up with a bang, smothered California and Stanford by more than 30 points apiece and last Saturday afternoon absolutely anesthetized USC 73-62—and the score could have been much worse. Notice was served. UCLA intends to fight its way to the final in Houston's Astrodome, it intends to win again—and are there any demurs?
Well, yes. Forget that front line of 6'8" Sidney Wicks, 6'7" Curtis Rowe and 6'9" Steve Patterson, rulers of the backboards at both ends. Forget the steadily improving guards and the very tough defense. Pennsylvania is in the market for an upset. Marquette would like to try. Kansas and Notre Dame are capable of playing a superb game.
This week the 16 survivors of league races and qualifying rounds battle each other in regional tournaments at Raleigh, N.C., Athens, Ga., Wichita, Kans. and Salt Lake City. The four winners meet the following weekend in Houston. For those who get close enough to the action, it should be something.
There is, to begin with, Penn. It should represent the East, provided, of course, it can get past South Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion. The Quaker task is made difficult since the game will be in Raleigh, an ACC stronghold. In beating North Carolina last week for the right to meet Penn, the Gamecocks were, with the exception of rebounder Tom Owens, singularly unimpressive. Only North Carolina, at the end, was even less impressive. N.C. missed eight of 11 free throws in the final five minutes, and in the last six seconds Center Lee Dedmon, in a jump-ball situation against a man seven inches shorter, tipped the ball back toward S.C.'s basket, instead of toward his own. Not entirely with reluctance Owens dropped in the winning goal.
But this may be the way with Frank McGuire-coached teams. It was only the second time in 15 tries that a club of his survived the ACC tournament. The last time it happened—at North Carolina in 1957—he won the national championship by beating Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in a triple overtime.
Penn, which has won 45 of its last 46 games, qualified for the regional round by beating Duquesne 70-65. The Quakers play excellent defense (especially Guard Dave Wohl and Forward Corky Calhoun) and can score well from five positions when substitute frontcourt man Phil Hankinson is in the lineup.
"I don't think we can lose," said Wohl. "It's not a cocky or boasting attitude, it's a realistic look at ourselves. We will have to be beaten."
In the other bracket, Fordham, which smashed inept Furman 105-74 in the qualifying round, will play Villanova. Mainly because of a swarming full-court press installed by its rookie coach, Digger Phelps, tiny Fordham (25-2) should be able to cope with Villanova's 6'8" Howard Porter. The Rams had no height to cope with Marquette a few weeks ago, either, yet they forced the Warriors into overtime. The pick is Fordham on a jump shot by Charlie Yelverton—strictly routine.
That could set up an internecine match between the Rams and Penn—internecine because Phelps was an assistant at Penn for four years. He and Penn Coach Dick Harter are close friends who would prefer not to meet on the basketball court. If they happen to, Penn should make short work of the Rams.
In the Mideast qualifying round at South Bend, Clarence Glover, one of the less sensational shooting forwards in America, made the sneak play of the year for Western Kentucky. With six seconds to go and the Hilltoppers about to throw the ball inbounds, Glover knelt unnoticed in the opposite corner. He stood up, took the pass and put in a layup to beat Jacksonville 74-72.
Jacksonville's 7'2" All-America Artis Gilmore had left Glover to help cover big Jim McDaniels, who had got Western that far in the first place. But Gilmore was not the only goat. The Dolphins led by as much as 18 points several times late in the first half before blowing their advantage by sloppy ball handling. "I don't think either club impressed anyone," said Jacksonville Coach Tom Wasdin. "We didn't deserve to win, and they just came and got it."
The victory was so much extra bourbon for those bluegrass folks who have waited forever for a meeting between the Hilltoppers and the University of Kentucky. Western has been fielding basketball teams for 52 years, Kentucky for 68—and they have never played each other. The main obstacle has been The Baron, Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp, who does not fancy mixing with social inferiors. In part his aversion to the lower classes may stem from his team's loss to Louisville in the 1959 Mideast Regional.
The Westerners are sure to be out in force at Athens, waving their red towels and carrying on like Chairman Mao youth followers before the Forbidden City. They had better collect more ammunition than towels. Despite a season of nagging injuries and illnesses (including the hospitalization of Rupp) Kentucky won the SEC as usual and coasted into the playoffs for the 19th time. The Wildcats have balance, depth, excellent shooting (the first eight men are all hitting better than 50%) and a good big man in seven-footer Tom Payne, who has improved greatly. Much depends on the health of 6'4" Guard Kent Hollenbeck, who missed the last five games because of a groin injury.
Whichever team wins, it probably will be too emotionally drained to beat the winner of the Marquette-Ohio State game—most likely Marquette. The Warriors qualified Saturday by taking out Miami of Ohio 62-47. Miami was without its high scorer of late, Larry Garloch (who fractured two vertebrae in a gym class accident), but it still managed to hold Marquette until the second half. Such facts, though, have a way of being meaningless with Marquette. Lame or healthy, 27 straight have fallen to the Warriors this year, 39 over the last two seasons.
"We're a second-half team," said Coach Al McGuire. "We won and we're going down South again. I spent-six years down there [at Belmont Abbey] and all I can remember is Coca-Cola bottles, gas stations and red clay."
His memories should be more vivid after Athens. Marquette turned down an NCAA bid last season and won the NIT, so it is tournament-toughened, and it has since added 6'11" sophomore Jim Chones, possibly the best center in the nation. Marquette should make good use of him while it can because he admits he is available to the pros before graduation.
"My father is dead and I've got five brothers and sisters at home in Racine, Wis.," he said. "My mother makes salads at an Italian restaurant, and I've got to give serious thought to any professional possibilities."
Chones will be strongly challenged in Georgia. Ohio State has a star sophomore center of its own, seven-foot Luke Witte, and if Marquette gets by the Buckeyes, either Payne of Kentucky or seven-footer McDaniels of Western Kentucky will be next in line. However, Chones has the Mideast's best supporting cast, notably Dean (The Dream) Meminger, who McGuire says is a better passer than Bob Cousy. Both Marquette forwards have been hurt, Gary Brell with muscle spasms in his back and neck and Bob Lackey with a "severe contusion of the lower back," but Lackey definitely will play. Brell is questionable.
If Marquette is upset in Athens, the likely culprit will be Ohio State—tough on defense and disciplined. Despite having only one starting senior, Jim Cleamons, the Buckeyes won the Big Ten with a 13-1 record. Cleamons directs the action, leads in assists and is the best defender and second-leading rebounder. Sophomore Allan Hornyak is a fine shooter who has been transformed into a team player by Coach Fred Taylor.
Kansas, which meets Houston in the Midwest Regional at Wichita, has a 25-1 record, its only loss coming at Louisville just before Christmas. The Jayhawks feature a powerful inside game with 6'10" Dave Robisch, 6'10" Roger Brown and a couple of tall substitutes. Should they be surrounded underneath the basket, Bud Stallworth can hit from long range.
The disturbing thing about Kansas is that it has been squeaking by lately. It beat Colorado by one point, Oklahoma by two in overtime, Missouri by two in overtime and Nebraska by five. That is preferable to losing, but the Jayhawks cannot claim that they stormed into the NCAA tournament.
Still, Kansas should be able to handle Houston, which it beat 89-73 in the final of the Jayhawk Classic in December, and meet the winner of the Notre Dame-Drake game. If it is the Irish (who walloped Texas Christian last Saturday 102-94 as Austin Carr scored 52 points), the Jayhawks should feel confident. They easily beat Carr and Company last season in South Bend, and they are much better now.
Drake has a strange situation. On Feb. 27 Coach Maury John announced his resignation, to take effect after the season, in order to move to Iowa State. At the time the Bulldogs were struggling to keep up in the Missouri Valley race. Fortunately, Louisville was in a tailspin and the league finished in a three-way tie. Drake won the playoff, and now John is the happiest lame-duck coach around.
"I'm looking after two teams," he said last week, "attempting to win the national championship with one and hoping to rebuild another."
To add to the confusing game of musical chairs, Howard Stacey, interim coach at Louisville, which lost the playoff to Drake Saturday, formally agreed 3½ hours before tipoff to replace John at Drake. John should get to his Iowa State recruiting chores early. If the Irish do not knock him out, Kansas will, but he is a resilient man. After all, he says, "I'm still the Drake coach." Huh?
UCLA's opponent in the first round of the West Regional at Salt Lake City will be Brigham Young. The Cougars have an agile, 6'11" Yugoslavian center, Kresimir Cosic, and they love to run and gun. They qualified for the tournament by beating Utah on Utah's court and then knocked off Utah State 91-82 on State's court in the qualifying round Saturday. All of which frustrated State Coach LaDell Andersen.
"Kresimir Cosic simply does not do the things you would expect an American college post man to do," he complained. "I think he really doesn't know himself. He may shoot overhanded, underhanded or behind his back."
BYU now has shot 56% from the field in its last six games, and it is certain to have UCLA fans outnumbered 10 to 1 in Salt Lake. But the Bruins were undefeated in a far tougher conference. Barring tragic upheaval, they should advance into the regional final to play either Pacific or Long Beach State.
Pacific made it in by winning its conference title, but Long Beach had to qualify for a second straight year by beating Weber State, which it did 77-66, using the same jug-shaped 1-2-2 zone defense that worked last time. The 49ers moved the ball well to inside men George Trapp and Bob Lynn, and sophomore Guard Ed Ratleff scored 31 points, mostly from the outside. Even so, it is hard to take Long Beach seriously. UCLA murdered the team in the regionals last year. Kansas and Marquette made hash of the 49ers this season.
If Pacific gets by Long Beach, it could present a little more trouble for the Bruins. The Tigers, who have a good 6'10" center in junior John Gianelli (Northern California's Player of the Year), lost at UCLA by only 12 points in December. Pacific has won its last 11 in a row and, even more amazing to its fans, Coach Dick Edwards, the original human volcano, has yet to get hit with a technical foul this year. He may be storing up the lava and sulphur for Salt Lake.
So there is the lineup for the Astrodome: UCLA, Kansas, Marquette and Pennsylvania. The Marquette-Penn battle of the unbeatens could be the best game of the weekend, matching well-coached, disciplined teams. Marquette probably would be the oddsmakers' favorite, but the pick here is Penn. The Quakers have close to equal board strength and defense, superior shooting and a stronger bench. In the other semifinal, UCLA is just the sort of team to give Kansas a headache; it has lots of movement in its attack and it rebounds well. Kansas is not at its best against speed. Should it be Notre Dame under the Dome instead of the Jayhawks, UCLA would be out to avenge its only loss of the season. The last time that situation came up, the Bruins annihilated Houston 101-69.
Against either Penn or Marquette in the Saturday afternoon final, the choice is—well, listen to the man who is best acquainted with Sidney Wicks' stare and Curtis Rowe's tip-ins.
USC Coach Bob Boyd leaned against a wall near the UCLA dressing room after his latest loss to the Bruins and sipped a soft drink. Possibly he would have preferred something stronger.
"It's hard to pick a winner," he said. "Anything can happen in a one-round knockout tournament. You can't term them an overwhelming favorite, but...I'd pick UCLA."
Wooden said it another way. "I'm not going to suggest that we'll win it," he said, laughing lightly, "but I wouldn't trade our chances with anyone." And is that enough said?