Unless Bill Walton quits school in the next few minutes to merge with the NBA; unless he falls in love or runs over a dog or his face breaks out or he is hijacked to Uruguay, UCLA should win the national championship again. That would make six consecutive NCAA titles for the Bruins, eight in the last nine years—and then Senator Sam Ervin could begin antitrust hearings on the real monopoly in basketball.
Strange and long ago as it may seem, when the ball began bouncing on campus way back there in October, this was to be the New Look season for the college game. Gone were the awesome UCLA frontline pickets responsible for the last two championship teams. Gone, even longer, were the Alcindor times and, however anonymous, the bit players who won their small fame only because they were there when Lew was. Hanging around. Waiting to play. Saying "Wha's happenin'?"
Elsewhere Tom McMillen was to be the new star in the East, and Jim Chones was gathering support in the Midwest. Maryland would be No. 1. No, Marquette would be. Didn't matter. All the chickens were coming home to roost. Somebody was going to get UCLA this time.
Then, of a sudden, from behind what now seems like a marvelously contrived scheme of un-publicity, this quaint-looking, red-haired and freckled fellow came bursting onto the scene. Only a sophomore, Bill Walton ran and jumped and passed and shot and rebounded and blocked shots and wagged his red head and waved his bony arms and wore cute little ice cups on his knees and was so downright ebullient, opponents couldn't believe he did the whoooole thing.
In the wake of Walton's brilliant skills, other players were forgotten. Not to mention teams. And as the NCAA tournament got under way last weekend a man searching for pretenders to the UCLA dynasty could inquire only who? And answer only boohoo.
The Bruins literally tore up the schedule on the way to their 26-0 record this winter. They are one of the few groups ever to be ranked in the Top Ten in both team offense and defense. UCLA averaged 96.1 points a game (third highest in the land) and gave up 63.8 (seventh lowest). This average spread of a cool 32 points is an NCAA record by a mile, and Coach John Wooden says his team's rebounding edge (almost 19 a game more than the opponents) is the best in his school's history. For all of this, the UCLA season has not been as close as the scores would indicate.
Most of the time Walton, Guards Henry Bibby and Greg Lee, Forwards Keith Wilkes and Larry Farmer have left games early, chuckling at the havoc they have wreaked. Walton's statistics (22 points, 15 rebounds) hardly tell of his value.
Loyola's quick, acrobatic LaRue Martin was the only center to play Walton even all year—and that was merely on the scoresheet. Martin led Walton in points, 19 to 18, and in rebounds, 18 to 16. UCLA won the game by 28 points.
In Chicago, as all up and down the West Coast, UCLA hurt people in different ways. Lee, directing the flow and feeding from backcourt. Bibby, firing from afar and quick-handed on the press. Farmer and Wilkes, hauling in the garbage and releasing for fast breaks. Swen Nater, Larry Hollyfield and Tommy Curtis coming off the bench, as if they were needed for something.
Still, it was Walton who made everything go. "His presence is worth 40 points," says the Lakers' Keith Erickson. "You play him with a box and one," says Washington State's Bob Greenwood. "Four guys on Walton and one on the rest."
"The NCAA tournament?" says Loyola's George Ireland, looking ahead. "You mean the UCLA Invitation."
For the others who still believe in truth, justice and the tooth fairy, there remains a tournament to be played and to be won. Out of the original 25 entrants, 16 survivors of conference races and qualifying rounds battle each other this week in regional tournaments at Morgantown, W. Va.; Dayton, Ohio; Ames, Iowa; and Provo, Utah. The four winners meet the following weekend at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. And if this seems like a rather agonizing process just for a closer look at what makes the Walton Gang tick (and then tock—and then explode), maybe it's all worth it. There may not be another team like it until—well, UCLA next year.
Sadly, there are only a handful of teams capable of staying on the court with the Bruins and perhaps none capable of extending them. For guesses, let it be said that there are four: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Southwestern Louisiana and Long Beach State.
Penn, under a new coach and a new system, would like to come up with something new in the East Regional. Like a couple of victories. In the past two years the Quakers stormed out of the Ivy League with near-perfect records only to be embarrassed, first by Calvin Murphy, then by the crushing 90-47 defeat from Villanova last March. This season Coach Chuck Daly moved 6'1" Corky Calhoun to backcourt, taught 6'5" Al Cotler some nuances of ball handling and molded a deliberate power team.
The Pennsylvanians are strong on the boards, often go to tall perimeter shooters Bob Morse and Phil Hankinson and have quietly become one of the best defensive teams around. Supposedly fragile against a press, the Quakers avenged their only Ivy defeat (at Princeton) by having Center Craig Littlepage bring the ball upcourt in the return meeting.
In the first NCAA round last Saturday against an excellent but tired Providence team, Penn had trouble moving against a press and a zone in the first half. Then the Quakers began running and, with Calhoun and Hankinson scoring well in addition to shutting off the Friars' Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes, breezed 76-60.
The team could lose right away to Villanova, but if the Quakers have anything left down in the gut, they will not. Doubtless, some of their anger from the defeat last year was spent in a 74-64 January victory over the Wildcats when Calhoun—a defensive terror—abandoned his reluctance to shoot, took Chris Ford inside and burned him for 20 points.
Ford, Tom Inglesby and the typesetters' favorite, Hank Siemiontkowski, have come on strong for Villanova late in the season. They are the best outside shooters in the regional and Jack Kraft will be babbling his aphoristic "Krafties" at fever pitch. But another upset is unlikely—and this time the Wildcats may keep the runner-up receipts.
That same night in Morgantown there will be blood on the Carolina moon, but which Carolina? Both the Tar Heels of the North and the Gamecocks of the South have been itching to have at the other since SC's last-second win over NC in the ACC tournament a year ago. Now—because Kevin Joyce of South Carolina threw in a 22-footer to beat Temple and North Carolina defeated Maryland in the ACC tournament—they will get their chance.
If a 7-footer can be called the sleeper of the year, South Carolina's Danny Traylor is it. With powerful, offensive-minded Tom Riker at his side, Traylor makes the Gamecock forecourt look like a tag-team wrestling poster. Fouls have plagued them all year, but when McGuire's big men get in trouble, Joyce and sophomore Brian Winters are there.
A Penn-North Carolina matchup could turn on the ability of the Tar Heel guards, George Karl and Steve Previs, to press Cotler and the Quakers with their bewildering array of defenses. Penn is not as physical as South Carolina and not as quick as North Carolina, whose Robert McAdoo, Dennis Wuycik and Bobby Jones could give the Quakers fits inside—if they stay out of foul trouble. It would not be too much of a surprise to see Calhoun guard McAdoo, in which case the Tar Heels' Bill Chamberlain would have to take over some of the scoring. Chamberlain was awful offensively in the ACC tournament; if he doesn't recover quickly, Penn could advance to Los Angeles. So could South Carolina. But history is with its northern neighbor; the last eight times the regular-season ACC winner won a regional berth it also won the regional.
Whoever gets out of the East should reach the final game because the Mideast is a collection of, to be kind, handbags and gladrags.
First, there is—or was or is again—Marquette, whose season can be divided into BC and AD—Before Chones and After Dough. Before Center Jim Chones deserted his team to sign with the New York Nets five games from the end of the season the Warriors were 21-0. Without him they were 3-2. As the team entered the tournament last week with everyone waiting to pay off some debts, Coach Al McGuire and a street-clothesed Chones found themselves in a situation reminiscent of the Lone Ranger and Tonto when they were rushed by all the Indians. Said Ranger, "We're in trouble, Tonto." Said Tonto, "What you mean, we, Kemo Sabe?"
Unfortunately, nobody knew the trouble Kemo Sabe was about to see. And it came not from Indians but from John Law, in the guise of the wonderful, nonsensical old NCAA.
At Knoxville, Tenn., Marquette and Florida State both won despite another of the NCAA's ludicrous little grandstand plays. Embarrassed by last year's pro-am at Houston, a three-man NCAA committee interviewed players about alleged contracts with agents—five hours before game time. Three FSU players, wearing their warmups, signed affidavits saying they had not retained agents, but Marquette's Bob (Black Swan) Lackey refused to sign until he and his school could receive legal counsel.
"I'm just a bartender and a coach, but it's not American to sign something like this," said McGuire. One Milwaukee source said Lackey did have an agent but that 100 other players did, too. And the source, of course, is at least half-right. If the NCAA disqualified everyone with an agent, they might as well call off their little tournament right now and award the trophies to the Arkansas Home for the Deaf and Dumb. (And the NCAA knows how important affidavits are, having consulted the legal firm of Porter and McDaniels about that.)
But the next day John Law NCAA ruled Marquette ineligible for the tournament because Lackey wouldn't sign. In other words, a Swan is guilty until proven innocent. Marquette protested, but the Warriors' berth was offered to Ohio University. Then the Swan (nobody's lackey) signed, meaning at that point somebody had won or lost his way into a spot opposite Kentucky.
It wouldn't be a proper NCAA tournament without Adolph Rupp; he is to be congratulated for practically willing the Wildcats to the Mideast in Dayton. They sure didn't get there by themselves.
"This is the worst team I've ever had," growled the Baron before he beat Tennessee last week. "When I make a substitution I have to use skim milk."
Many in the commonwealth are trying to force Rupp into abiding by the mandatory university retirement age of 70 and quitting after this year, but Rupp will have none of it. He has done a remarkable job with this year's bunch and he is well aware of it. "I'm not too old," he says. "Not after what I did with this material."
Kentucky does have fine shooters in Forward Tom Parker and the Howdy Doody look-alike contestants in back-court, Stan Key and Ronnie Lyons. Also, the Wildcats would be welcome in LA where their dynamic cheerleading duo, the beautiful, blond Barnstable twins, could wow the MGM lot. But the team is slow, plays no defense and hardly penetrates at all. To win, the Wildcats need two amazing games from Center Jim Andrews who, though capable, plays only when the mood strikes. If Andrews had his coach's heart, Kentucky would be a lot better.
In the other bracket at Dayton, Florida State will meet—boo, hiss, woof-woof, let's hear it—Minnesota, the closest thing to Stanley Kubrick's movie "droogs" that you will ever see. According to pro draft lists, the contest between the Seminoles and the Gophers will include so many "hardship cases" the game should immediately be put on welfare.
Coach Hugh Durham's laddies from Tallahassee came off NCAA probation this year to compile a fine 22-5 regular-season record. During a 21-day road trip they won three tournaments, and Durham, a likable, volatile sort, was kicked out of a game in Hawaii. Aloha, Hugh.
The Seminoles have Ron King and Reggie Royals to shoot, Royals and Lawrence McCray to go get it and a lot of balance. But Rowland Garrett, the man who holds them together and an artist of talent, has better hands with a brush than with a pass.
Durham claims his team is "usually the villain," but against Minnesota he is playing with the alltime heavy. The Gophers finally won the Big Ten over the long haul of a chaotic winter in which the name "Musselman" stayed right up there in the headlines with Mao and Clifford Irving.
Thirty-one-year-old Bill Musselman turned the Gopher program completely around in one season and, were it not for those 95 seconds of horror in Minneapolis on January 25, he would be the likely Coach of the Year. After their brawl with Ohio State, the Gophers regrouped; Dave Winfield, a star baseball pitcher, contributed steadiness, and they overtook Michigan and the Buckeyes to win the championship.
If the two suspended Gophers, Ron Behagen and Corky Taylor, were with the team, Minnesota would be the favorite in the regional, even against Marquette. But now they are just a five-man unit with no bench.
As it is, Minnesota should get past Florida State on defense alone (theirs leads the country) and then face Kentucky or reinstated Marquette.
The Warriors have already beaten Minnesota by 15 points, but Chones inside frightened the Gophers then (if you can believe that), and he dominated the game. This second clash between two savage, pressing teams would not be fit for women or children. If it is Kentucky-Minnesota, watch for the Howdy Doodys to throw up.
In Ames the Midwest Regional finds itself with 'Cats, Cardinals, Cajuns and Cripples. But the most surprised squad of all are Cougars; they didn't get there. For years Houston's Guy Lewis has been crowing about the superiority of his team over the weak Southwest Conference, but last weekend his towering Cougars were embarrassed 85-74 by—yew bet—Texas. This is a Texas practically in wheelchairs, a Texas with star Larry Robinson limping on a broken foot, Lynn Howden playing with a broken thumb and Scooter Lenox hurting with a pulled groin. The Longhorns were 3-3 in conference play when sophomore Harry Larrabee earned a starting job. They have won nine of their last 10, and it was Robinson and Larrabee who got them into the regional for the first time since 1963.
Kansas State, the Steers' opponent on Thursday night, has been a long time adapting to Coach Jack Hartman's personality and style of play and it was another sophomore guard who got the Wildcats going—Little Lon Kruger who scored 127 points while K-State won its last nine games. The team probably is too slow and unsound to go all the way in the regional, whose winner should be decided when Louisville plays Southwestern Louisiana.
The Cards of Coach Denny Crum—that chip off the old Wooden block—have been highly rated all year but it took them a playoff victory over Memphis State to get into the NCAAs, and late in the year they have been erratic, sometimes plain bad. Jim Price is a versatile player with a flair for defense while Ron Thomas is an ox of a rebounder. Still, Louisville is not a good outside-shooting team, the Cards have no true center and they should come to the end of the road against a Southwestern Louisiana 1-3-1 zone that is bigger and tougher than the Memphis one.
Southwestern is led by the marvelous Dwight (Bo Pete) Lamar, the nation's leading scorer. In order to get to the finals the Ragin' Cajuns would be required to go from the bayous of Lafayette to the sagebrush of Las Cruces to the cornfields of Ames and onto the freeways of Los Angeles, but they are capable of that and more; with luck they could win the whole balloon.
The 112-101 first-round victory by Lamar and company over Marshall was an interesting hurdle in many ways. Few teams that night would have beaten the Thundering Herd, a quicker, faster group than USL will face the rest of the way. The victory brought heaps of confidence, showed the Cajuns they belonged in the big time and demonstrated they can win even when Lamar is having an off night.
The handsome Bo Pete averaged 37 points a game this year and he is an exciting one-on-one operator and streak shooter who throws them in from all outdoors. More important, he has learned to police himself (11 assists against Marshall) and if he gets hot he could dominate this regional all by himself.
At times, however, Lamar is cold and not exactly an unselfish player. He is not, either, the best player on his team. Roy Ebron, a 6'9", 228-pound little-known rookie, is. Were it not for UCLA's Walton, in fact, Ebron—who averages 23 points and 14 rebounds—would be the best big man in college. Coach Beryl Shipley has 6'7" Fred Saunders to handle the ball, 6'8", 230-pound Wilbert Loftin to help Ebron on the boards and a fine bench.
A classic battle between Walton and Ebron assumes UCLA reaches the finals. The Bruins begin defense of their championship at Provo playing Weber State, which bombed Hawaii in the first round, and then probably Long Beach State.
Long Beach, which nearly dethroned the Bruins in the West last March, almost didn't make it back. Brigham Young and the wondrous Kresimir Cosic had the 49ers buried in the first half but then staggered and lost 95-90 in overtime. When Coach Jerry Tarkanian caught his breath he was forced by a reporter to look past San Francisco, his next regional opponent, to the Bruins. "Walton dominates. Walton dominates so much it is sad," said Tarkanian, who is always sad anyway.
His current five probably is not as well prepared to upset as last year's was. Though Ed Ratleff is the most complete college player in the country and the one man able to control a game against the Bruins, most of his ability stems from the backcourt and UCLA's devastating pressure defense would make Ratleff work hard in bringing the ball upcourt, giving him little time to concentrate on points.
"The key, though," says one scout, "is what Long Beach does against Bib-by on the wing. If Bibby is missing, Long Beach is in the game."
Last year certain teams could control the tempo on UCLA and go inside for high-percentage shots. This time the need is for guards who can beat the UCLA press and a big tall pivotman to either muscle Walton inside or score from the outside and force him to leave the basket area. There is always the possibility that the Long Beach center, Nate Stephens, will run away and hide against Walton; perhaps McAdoo of North Carolina and Ebron of Southwestern Louisiana have better chances.
But is there a chance, really? John Wooden was asked how he would play against UCLA. "It would depend on personnel," he said. "With my '64 team I'd press all over, float and sag and help out on Walton. With Jabbar I'd play Walton face up, challenge him and try to keep him from the ball. Those are the only teams I could possibly play him with."
That's nice. All that college basketball needs to beat Bill Walton is a couple of more Bruin teams to comeback and combine forces. Maybe this is the UCLA Invitation after all.