When UCLA's John Wooden checks the guest list for that little party he is throwing out in Los Angeles this week, he will notice that many of his anticipated visitors had to send their regrets. South Carolina and Penn called in sick from Morgantown, W. Va., where they came down with a bad case of the Carolina blues. Marquette's bandwagon got a fiat tire in Dayton, so the Warriors will be replaced by some cool dudes who will be lucky to get in and out of Hollywood without someone rating them X. And Southwestern Louisiana, which came to Ames, Iowa singing "Dwight Lamar, superstar, show them you are what you say you are," had such a crummy time that it turned around and disappeared into the Bayou country from which it sprang.
They all will be missed in Los Angeles, but the party will go on, make no mistake about that. Chain-smoking Dean Smith will be there to wow everyone with his North Carolina Tar Heels, the strongest team to come out of the East in years. So will cocky young Denny Crum, Wooden's erstwhile understudy, who comes back home with a veteran Louisville team that the master himself would be proud to call his own. And so will what's-its-name, the gatecrasher. Who, in fact, invited the Florida State Seminoles, those jumping jacks with the wide Afros and hungry looks?
Like one of the instant hurricanes that pop up every so often off the Florida coast, the Seminoles whirled through last week's Mideast Regional and into the NCAA tournament's title round before anybody knew they were there. They are the most unlikely guests at Wooden's party, where the Bruins are expected to present their 61-year-old coach with his sixth straight championship and eighth in the last nine years. One reason is that the Seminoles are fresh out of the NCAA's jailhouse, having just done a three-year stretch for various recruiting violations. Another is that they simply are not buying this stuff about UCLA having a lock on the title, that everyone is just flying out to the Coast to soak up some sun and gee whiz at the antics of Bill Walton & Co. "They're overlooking us," says Florida State playmaker Otto Petty, who at 5'7" is easy to overlook, "but we're going to show everybody."
Such enthusiasm is SOP when a team gets as far as the NCAA semifinals, and it is especially charming in a man of Petty's size, but even he would admit after last week's regionals that the tournament shapes up more than ever as another Wooden bash. Playing in the West Regional in Provo, Utah, the Bruins turned in a couple of typically overwhelming performances, destroying little Weber State 90-58 on Thursday night, then ripping highly regarded Long Beach State 73-57 Saturday afternoon.
For Jerry Tarkanian, the Long Beach coach, the pressure began building early. The UCLA band, by some freaky twist of fate, was quartered right below the 49ers at the Holiday Inn in Provo. Some Long Beach sympathizers claimed the band practiced all night, and Tarkanian confirmed that its rehearsing awoke him at 8:30 a.m. "I don't care," he said, "I'm not playing the band." Soon afterward Tarkanian had his team out in the motel parking lot working on its strategy for UCLA. "This is our chance," he said. "I wish I had more time to prepare."
Before the opening tip Walton and Long Beach's Ed Ratleff, possibly the best two players in the country, stood at midcourt, laughing and talking and clasping hands, wrists and arms. It was a fine display of fellowship and sportsmanship, something that disappeared almost as soon as the officials blew their whistles and tossed the ball up. The game, one of the roughest of the season, featured a lot of clandestine punching and shoving under the boards. Throughout, Wooden was off the bench, yelling at the officials and even going so far as to say one Long Beach player should be ashamed of himself. On the other side, Long Beach's Leonard Gray said that Walton was "the biggest crybaby in the world," and Ratleff charged that the Bruins "get away with so much on defense it's ridiculous."
The Bruins won the game in typical coldblooded fashion. With Walton intimidating inside and Henry Bibby popping away from the perimeter of Long Beach's zone, the Bruins pulled into a 17-10 lead. Next their press forced a couple of quick turnovers, and suddenly it was 24-12. By then Walton, for one, knew the Bruins had the game under control. In a huddle he grabbed Wooden's arm and said, "Hey, hey, easy, easy," then told his teammates, "Get it to me over their heads. I've got it beat."
And so he did. The Bruins never stopped pressing, and Bibby, who had 23 points for the game, never stopped hitting from outside.
The Bruins' opponent in this week's semifinal, Louisville, is a sort of UCLA of the Midwest, as Lefty Driesell might put it. Coached by Crum, who played for Wooden, assisted under him for three years and recruited Walton and almost all the rest of the current team, the Cardinals use UCLA's high-post offense and have tried their pressure defense.
Louisville won its trip to Los Angeles by defeating Kansas State 72-65 in the final of the Midwest Regional at Ames, but that game was anticlimactic. Everyone knew that dull ol' Kansas State, the Big Eight champ, simply was too big and ploddy to keep up with Jim Price, a Walt Frazier sort of guard, and Ron Thomas, one of the best 6'6" re-bounders in the country. In reality the Cards won their place among the final four on Thursday night, when they came from behind to shoot down Dwight Lamar, the major colleges' leading scorer, and his fellow Ragin' Cajuns from Southwestern Louisiana, 88-84.
The Cajuns' problems began two days before the game when Roy Ebron, their talented 6'9" center, came down with a bad chest cold. He tried to practice Wednesday but went only five minutes and was sent back to bed. Against Louisville, Ebron played like the sick man he was. He scored just one point in the first half, moved around sluggishly under the boards and picked up his third foul less than 10 minutes into the game. Even so the Cajuns seemed to have their run-and-gun game going right out the door toward L.A. They led 30-16 at one point and 44-39 at intermission.
But early in the second half Lamar went cold, as he is apt to do on occasion. With Price dogging him constantly, Lamar missed everything he shot the first 10 minutes of the period, and the team got only five baskets as Louisville pulled into a 66-60 lead. The Cajuns began to claw back in the waning moments, but each time they made a run at Louisville they were stymied by some rather curious officiating. Even with Coach Beryl Shipley raging on the bench—he was called for a technical that led to three key Louisville points in the closing moments—the Cajuns got the score down to 86-82 and had 1:04 left. But Price twisted in for a layup, and Crum was en route to a reunion with Wooden and the Bruins.
Meanwhile, back there in Dayton, Florida State was being its anonymous self, which might have been a good thing. While the fans were cheering Adolph Rupp's "last" Kentucky team, booing Coach Bill Musselman and his Minnesota Gophers and watching in disbelief as Marquette self-destructed right before their eyes, the Seminoles just rolled in. For Coach Hugh Durham it was the stuff of dreams. "Every year when we were on probation I would dream about getting to the finals," he said. "Now—boom—I'm there."
On Thursday night Kentucky upset Marquette 85-69 in what was by far the Wildcats' best showing of the season. Often referred to by the caustic Rupp as "a bunch of clowns" and "the worst varsity I've ever had," Kentucky on this night was a smooth, poised team that outrebounded, outshot, outhustled and even outquicked favored Marquette. The key was 5'10" Ronnie Lyons, a redheaded wonder who puffs and blows like a thoroughbred as he races all around the floor. Thanks to his quickness, Kentucky broke the Warriors' full-court press time and again for easy baskets. On the other end the Wildcats' zone defense—"our milling-around zone," as UK Assistant Joe Hall called it—shut off Marquette's inside game and forced Allie McGuire and Marcus Washington into nightmarish shooting. Together they hit nine of 39 from the floor.
The Wildcats figured to have a rougher time with Florida State, which ousted Minnesota 70-56 in a dull game that had the fans heading for the exits midway through the second half. The Gophers' storied zone defense failed to stop Rowland Garrett, who scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds even as State's man-to-man and zones reduced the Minnesota offense to one hopeless jump shot after another. "Since we've come to town all we've heard about is their defense," said Durham. "Well, tonight our defense was the best one on the floor." Afterward Musselman implied that Minnesota's holy war in the Big Ten had left his team spent. "We were tired," he said, shaking his head.
By Saturday everyone was saying how nice it would be if Rupp could take his last Kentucky team to the finals. Even Durham, a Louisville native who rooted for the Wildcats as a boy, sometimes seemed apologetic about being the man who stood in Rupp's way. But Florida State showed no mercy once the game got going, and again the team's defense—and Otto Petty—was the difference.
Forcing Kentucky into numerous turnovers and rallying their running game around their tiny guard, the Seminoles pulled into a 34-28 lead at halftime. In the second period they stopped Kentucky's offense cold, something few teams have done, and even KU's fans were booing and screaming "shoot it!" Lyons finally hit a jumper, but State had the game in hand 57-45. Afterward Rupp, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, refused to concede this was his ultimate gasp.
Writer: "Is this your last game?"
Rupp: "When I have an announcement to make, it will come out of Lexington, not here."
Rupp: "Oh, maybe six or eight years from now. [Pause] Then again, maybe I'll announce it on the way home so they can broadcast it all around the world."
Ron King led Florida State with 22 points and was voted MVP, but some insisted the honor should have gone to Petty. He came off the bench to score 13 points, make eight assists and—are you ready?—get six rebounds.
At Morgantown, North Carolina came on with such superb back-to-back performances that many fans were beginning to wonder if, finally, a serious challenger to UCLA had emerged. On Thursday the Tar Heels' aggressive defense held South Carolina's Tom Riker without a field goal until 6:40 remained in the game, and they buried the Gamecocks 92-69. But Penn fans were equally excited about their team's performance in a 78-67 win over Villanova, the school that had embarrassed the Quakers in last year's regional.
Come game time and North Carolina was out gut-checking Penn man-to-man all over the floor. The Quakers made enough free throws—nine of nine—to trail by only 37-35 at the half, but in the second period they began to come unglued under the pressure. Led by Dennis Wuycik, Carolina picked apart the Quakers' zone. Penn's Corky Calhoun was not aggressive on offense, Bob Morse looked exhausted and Phil Hankinson could not hit. When North Carolina got ahead by 11, Smith sent the Tar Heels into their four-corner offense, and the game was over.
The Tar Heels were so impressive—and so well-coached by Smith—that it is hard to believe they will not pop Florida State's bubble and move into the final opposite UCLA, which should be an easy winner over Louisville. The Tar Heels' chances then would depend on how well UCLA can stand a dose of its own medicine—pressure defense—and whether 6'9" center Bob McAdoo can go outside and score with his high arched shots over Walton. If North Carolina's press fails, or if McAdoo is intimidated by Walton, the Bruins will become the first undefeated national champions since the Bruins were the undefeated national champions five years ago in Lew Alcindor's sophomore year.
"I don't think much about win streaks and things like that," said Walton one day a few weeks ago, "but I would hate to be on the first UCLA team that finally loses the big one. Then nobody will remember that you had a good season, that you were 29-1 or something like that. They will remember only that you were the UCLA team that didn't go all the way. I wouldn't like that."
He shouldn't worry. Unless he and his teammates slide into the Pacific Ocean before next Saturday afternoon Coach John Wooden's party should go off just as planned. Champagne, anyone?