They come at UCLA this time from the dusty pits of the Palestra and with the hot-dog spirits of "Philly ball" in their veins; from the edge of the Kansas plains where the eerie chant "Rock...Chalk...Jay...Hawk...Kkkkk...Uuuu" stirs the body and soothes the soul; and especially from out of nowhere, the backwoods Bluegrass country hard by a red, white and blue water tower in Bowling Green, Ky.
They come like this: Villanova, with those wonderfully obscene roll-out banners and that marvelous ski-nosed coach jabbering his double-talk for all the world like Casey Stengel. Kansas, big, bold and brutish—a Wall Street of a team; bears and bulls—carrying as its standard a remarkable tendency for victory in the close ones and sustained, undoubtedly, by its silent prayers in the locker room before every game. And Western Kentucky, red towels waving and BIG MAC signs churning in appreciation of Jim McDaniels and his crew of black henchmen whose time has been long in arriving but who now look like a team with perhaps the best chance of any in recent years to topple the odds and steal the laurels from Los Angeles.
Having survived brave and vigorous regional competition in Raleigh, N.C., Athens, Ga., and Wichita, Kans., these three will join defending champion UCLA this weekend in the Houston Astrodome for college basketball's final curtain of the 1970-71 season: the semifinal and final rounds of the NCAA championship.
The three interlopers have landed in Texas with one common denominator, the Unforeseen. And they must surely give UCLA pause for thought similar to those considerations of Sir Roderick in Scott's The Lady of the Lake:
March 29, 1971
Respect was mingled with surprise,
And the stern joy which warriors feel
In foemen worthy of their steel.
UCLA, of course, comes to the Astrodome by no surprise. The Bruins are always there at the end, which is where they belong under the now-legendary tutelage of Coach John Wooden. They proved worthy of their steel long before the West Regional in Salt Lake City by going undefeated in the Pacific Eight Conference which—let it finally be said and done with—is the strongest college league in the land, and by twice beating highly acclaimed USC. Getting to Utah, then, was most of the battle, and once there, so the feeling went, the Bruins would be on a picnic.
Brigham Young and Long Beach State had other designs. The Cougars, UCLA's opponent Thursday night, were in friendly WAC country and they had their Yugoslavian Secret Weapon, 6'11" Kresimir Cosic—he of the 30-foot sets and behind-the-back dribbles—going for them. But though Cosic finished with 18 points and 23 rebounds and produced some bristling drives down the middle that belied one writer's nickname for him—The Pumas' Pleasant Pivoteer—Brigham Young drove back to Provo a 91-73 loser. UCLA was never really threatened.
In the other half of the draw, Long Beach fell behind Pacific by 13 points at halftime, a surprising development only because the Tigers looked slow enough to lose a kindergarten beanbag relay and Long Beach elected to stand around with them and fight dullness with apathy. After intermission, the 49ers' 1-3-1 trap zone opened the game up and Long Beach outscored Pacific by 26 to win 78-65.
It was left to Saturday afternoon for Jerry Tarkanian's team to show its true colors. Defense is Long Beach's game, and it gave UCLA all the defense it wanted as the Bruins barely escaped from a shocking 29% shooting afternoon to win 57-55. UCLA managed only eight field goals in the first half and, with 17 minutes left in the game, Henry Bibby threw up his second air ball, Sidney Wicks committed his fourth foul and shortly left. The defending champions, soon 11 points behind, looked dead and, Wooden said later, "I thought about leaving early for Houston with my wife and enjoying the coaches' convention."
Amid his moments of doubt, however, he replaced Guard Terry Schofield with 6'6½" John Ecker. Now, with four big men and Bibby in the lineup, UCLA scored nine straight points to get back in the contest. Wicks then reentered the game and helped put his club into a tie at 53 with 5:04 left. Finally, with 25 seconds to go, Wicks was fouled. He made both free throws and, on a rebound 13 seconds later, he was fouled once more. Irrepressible Sidney, now smiling with confidence, made both of those free throws, too, and UCLA had a 57-53 lead and another trip to the finals.
"We did everything we had to do," said Tarkanian afterward. "We stopped their inside game, we shut 'em off outside, we kept our hands in their faces. We stayed close. We scored as much as we gave 'em. We did everything we wanted to do to win."
Except it was UCLA that won. Which is now a problem for Kansas, not that the Jayhawks are worried. Even before they won their two squeakers at Wichita, beating Houston 78-77 and Drake 73-71 for the championship of the Midwest, a Kansas partisan told a TV announcer, "Forget UCLA. Forget everybody. We're the best team."
If they are, they have a scary way of showing their superiority, for Kansas won seven games by five or fewer points in its 25-1 regular season. The Jayhawks had become so used to close calls, in fact, that Coach Ted Owens' guitar-playing wife Nana could joke when 85-mile-per-hour winds buffeted the Owens' 26th floor suite in downtown Wichita. Just before making a fast break for the elevators Nana told her husband, "This place doesn't have vibrating beds, it has vibrating rooms." Owens could have used some similar haste that night while his team blew a 10-point lead to Houston in the second half. "We'll win now, I promise you," Houston Coach Guy Lewis told his Cougars when they began the half-court press that bothered Kansas. It was a bum promise, for Dave Robisch calmly hit seven of eight free throws in the last two minutes and Bud Stallworth scored 20 second-half points.
Drake reached the final against Kansas by upsetting Notre Dame 79-72 in overtime as Bobby Jones volunteered to keep within whispering distance of Austin Carr and then held him to 26 points. "Against Notre Dame we walked the ball up the court. Against Kansas we may crawl it," said Drake Coach Maury John. "And no, Jones hasn't volunteered to guard Robisch."
Nobody else did, either, for after Drake's quickness got the Dogs a 31-19 lead in the first half and command of the championship game, Robisch, with 27 points, and Roger Brown, both 6'10", asserted themselves. Robisch finally put the Jayhawks ahead to stay 64-61 on a three-point play with five minutes to go, and Kansas held on. Later, John called it "a wrestling match" and predicted that Kansas "might play UCLA close."
"That's the game I've been waiting for all year," said Robisch. "They've got great strength up front, and so do we. Now we're just going to go at it."
Also having at it when UCLA and Kansas meet under the Houston Dome will be the two finest cheerleading squads in America, as voted co-number ones by the International Cheer-leading Foundation. Kansas does its thing to songs by Chicago, and as a show of its mod mood, UCLA boogaloos to Jesus Christ, Superstar. The question is, have the judges seen the honeys of Western Kentucky, who feature the Big Red Spin, the Big Red Wraparound and the Big Red Torch?
The mean reds were in abundance last week in Athens where Western's surprising Hilltoppers won the Mideast Regional. It has been the norm the last few years for the Mideast to have the strongest and best-balanced tournament, and this year was no exception as all four teams achieved Top Ten status. Most of the rooters were from Kentucky, there to watch the pride of the Commonwealth, Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats, take on their neighbors from Western in a contest that had been talked about since before Colonel Sanders joined OCS. The Colonel himself was a no-show, but Governor Louie Nunn made it. He was resplendent in blue jacket ("for Kentucky"), red shirt ("for Western") and white tie ("I come in peace").
From the start it was obvious that Kentucky, lacking guards who could get the ball past midcourt, was not ready for the quickness and speed of Western. The Hilltoppers pressed like wild men. Jim McDaniels scored seven of WKU's first 16 points. Tom Payne, Kentucky's 7'2" Great Black Hope, was hit with a technical for grabbing the rim and then was struck by the thought that Clarence (Big C) Glover, six inches shorter, had actually gone high enough for a defensive block of Payne's own hook shot. Western ran it to 24-12, to 51-38 at the half and to a ludicrous 70-47 before McDaniels signaled "No. 1" to the crowd with 13 minutes left.
Western's 107-83 romp was only the second surprise of this rainy night in Georgia, since it followed Ohio State's startling 60-59 victory over previously unbeaten Marquette. Warrior Coach Al McGuire may have caused his own demise in the first half when, leading by 13 points with nine minutes left, he had his team switch to a zone from the helter-skelter press that had served it so well. The move was designed to protect his injured forwards, Bob Lackey and Gary Brell, but it changed the game totally. The Buckeyes—a fine, disciplined group of sophomores led by senior Captain Jim Cleamons—got back quickly, trailed by four at halftime and, most importantly, got Dean Meminger into early second-half foul trouble.
With 5:03 left in the game and Marquette up by five, Meminger crashed into Cleamons for his disqualifying foul, smashed his fist into his hand and spent the waning moments on the bench holding back his coach from charging the referees. Without the Dream, the Warriors played as though in a nightmare, and then they died.
Ohio State looked to be pulling another upset in the final when it coolly marched ahead of Western Kentucky by 38-24. McDaniels and Glover got the Hilltoppers moving late in the first half, however, and with Cleamons sitting out 12 minutes with fouls Western got back nearly even with 3:24 to go. After some horrendous mistakes by both sides, Big C Glover saved the day for Western in overtime, 81-78.
"I'm not responsible for anything Clarence does," said Western Coach Johnny Oldham. What the handsome C did was take 17 and 22 rebounds in the two games (McDaniels scored 35 and 31 points) and become the leading candidate for Ladies' Man honors in Houston. Besides being in Who's Who Among Students In American Universities and Colleges on the strength of his academics, Glover recognizes his other distinction. "When I got married," he says, "home attendance dropped 500. Just leave the G off my name and you are spelling it cor-rectly."
Meanwhile, it is a wonder that Jack Kraft, the coach of the Villanova team that Western Kentucky will meet in the semifinals, can coach at all. Philadelphia writers have been listening to him and loving him for years for interviews like this one concerning his Wildcats. Ready?
"This is probably, to the starting five, this is probably the best starting five that I have had as far as five guys are concerned. I've had maybe a better starting four, but I never had the fifth man. Every once in a while they go off on individual tandems where they bring their own individual talents into effect. Sometimes it's the light time and other times it's a little wrong time. Once they get it down to 100%, why then they'll be a real fine team."
Villanova put on quite a show in Raleigh, first eliminating the Firehouse Five of Fordham 85-75 by lobbing passes over the Rams' full-court press. Then the Wildcats positively slew those undefeated Tartars of the Ivy League, Penn, by 90-47. Flashy Chris Ford, not having to dodge the wieners that are thrown at him in Philly, could concentrate on waving his arms after baskets and kissing his teammates. Howard Porter, who scored 60 points in the two games, was bounding around the backboards, proving Kraft's description of his team: "We're in physical shape."
Earlier Penn had outclassed South Carolina 79-64 by hitting 19 straight free throws in the second half, but Quaker Guard Dave Wohl's description of his team's play was prophetic. "We are basically dull, methodical, efficient, mechanical," he said.
Penn had beaten the Wildcats by eight points earlier in the season and had not lost to them in three straight games, but against the aroused Wildcats at Raleigh the Quakers had no chance. Even as their unbeaten season crumbled at their feet, they stayed methodical and emotionless. Robots die easily.
Brewster McCloud, the dazzling creature of Robert Altman's fantasy film and the last man to achieve incredible things in the Astrodome, left his fallout shelter far up in the rafters because he thought he could fly. He could and did—just after John Phillips sang on the soundtrack The Last of the Unnatural Acts—but not for long. UCLA can be beaten, too—by Villanova, or Kansas or Western Kentucky—but not for long. In NCAA basketball, beating UCLA is the only unnatural act.