BAITING THE BRUINS

Their future is grizzly, but their innocence is refreshing as three surprising championship hopefuls earn the right to take en UCLA
March 26, 1973

So you have decided to wrestle with those heavyweight income tax forms tomorrow, you have ordered the combination lock for your refrigerator's meat compartment, you think Fearless Fosdick should be put in charge of eavesdropping. That takes care of the IRS, the USDA and the FBI. Now for the biggest problem since Johnny discovered he couldn't read the alphabet: What to do about UCLA in the NCAA?

What indeed, Bobby Knight and Steve Downing and Quinn Buckner and all you other Hoosiers who long to take it back home to Indiana? And Dr. K and Tubby, what plausible theories can you whisper in your Memphis State drawls that have not been mumbled before? And Ernie D and Bad Marvin. Are you the ones? Can Providence provide where Elvin Hayes and Artis Gilmore and prayer have failed? Or do you all feel as helpless as Superman around Kryptonite, having mashed your way through the regionals only to find the title surrounded by Bruins?

Not really. UCLA has not yet reduced to Jell-O the knees of Indiana and Bobby Knight, he and his regimented troops that baffled Marquette and Kentucky last week with a paramount example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The Walton Gang still must convince nifty Ernie DiGregorio, who many decided was unstoppable after watching his one-on-five games against Pennsylvania and Maryland. And unwithered remains Memphis State, with its high-flying, good-looking lads who rose out of the levee country to erase South Carolina and to bloody Kansas State.

Before the season began, it hardly seemed likely that Indiana or Providence or Memphis State would still be playing basketball this late in the year. But Saturday they will join UCLA in St. Louis for the NCAA title round, three verdant challengers arrayed against the omnipotent, secure and ubiquitous defender, united by a pestering, sobering and dramatic notion: UCLA hunts its seventh straight championship and ninth in 10 years; wonderful UCLA, the team that combines the best of two worlds, coaching and talent.

This is not to say that UCLA is unbeatable. Everybody knows what can happen; that on any given day, etc., etc. And the challengers, only one of whom—Indiana in 1953—has ever made it to the final four, will not play with lilacs in their hands and charity in their hearts. Midwest Regional titlist Memphis State, only recently ushered into the status polls under the aegis of Coach Gene Bartow, may be an obscure interloper to most people living a few city blocks off Beale Street, but the Tigers are mature and secure and, perhaps more important, family. They won 21 of their last 23 games as Bartow skillfully melded old and new names and games. Indiana, which gets first crack at UCLA on Saturday, and Providence already have experienced wins over teams they were not supposed to beat, so that is nothing new, and their crafty coaches have them believing that the team best equipped to withstand pressure will win. That tenet sustained Indiana through the Big Ten season and the Mideast Regional, and Providence in the East.

But it was a fact of last week's regionals that the casualties, reading like the dropout list at the Indianapolis 500, were as noteworthy or maybe more so than those who survived. Long Beach State, Marquette and Southwestern Louisiana, ranked third, fifth and seventh in the national polls, all are back in the pits after first-round accidents and breakdowns while Maryland, which ranked eighth, looked as flimsy as a flivver against Providence.

"All the teams that were supposed to get to St. Louis have been beaten," Wooden announced ominously to his team Thursday night according to Tommy Curtis, the team's Designated Bruin Talker (DBT). It was the coach's antidote for the early stages of infectious complacency, a reasonable expectation since UCLA was playing before a home crowd in Pauley Pavilion, where it has not lost a game since the tops were cut off sneakers. Well, almost. Long Beach, the silent minority's candidate, had just snored to a 77-67 defeat at the hands of San Francisco in the West opener and now UCLA was up against Arizona State, a team that had the audacity to announce that it would run with the Bruins. Run and gun from the land of the sun, and for a while it worked, with the Sun Devils dashing into a 21-16 lead. But the game was over by halftime with the Bruins ahead 51-37. Final score—98-81. Consecutive win No. 72 for the Bruins. So much for running.

That was expected. Long Beach's demise on Thursday night was not, even though many thought the 49ers peaked in late December at Oklahoma City and had been in a decline since. Starter Glenn McDonald injured a foot not long after midseason, and his defense never was replaced. Floor leader Rick Aberegg had not played well for a month. And rumors kept surfacing on the troubled waters that Coach Jerry Tarkanian was packing up his sailboat and would be coaching Nevada-Las Vegas next season. A more tangible problem was star Ed Ratleff. He jammed two fingers on his shooting hand on Monday and missed his first 11 warmup shots before the San Francisco game. Then, in the game, he tore a tendon in his left hand, which left him with no good hands. That wasn't enough to handle San Francisco.

"We have looked awful for a month," said a dismayed Tarkanian. For the last three years he is 1-1-0 with UCLA—one good game, one bad game and now no decision. "Eddie is our only consistent shooter, and when he went bad we had to go inside, and they stopped us there," Tarkanian said. "What a way to go, to get right next to the big one and then stink it up."

San Francisco viewed its game with UCLA Saturday through a rose-colored playbook. Earlier in the year the Dons were embarrassed by a 28-point loss to the Best in the West. This time Coach Bob Gaillard hoped for a different tune, something with a nice beat but a lot slower. "It's ring-a-round-a-rosy," jeered former Laugh-In star Arte Johnson, a UCLA fan, as he watched patient San Francisco stall to a 16-9 lead.

Later Wooden would say he was never worried. He inserted Tommy (DBT) Curtis and sophomore Dave Meyers. Quickly Curtis hit two from Hollywood and Vine, then one from the corner. Meyers scored, then Meyers missed, but William The Red, which is only one of the names used to describe Bill Walton, was there to tip it in and UCLA had a 19-16 lead. The Dons were never really in control again. Two later baskets on captivating plays by Walton, as always the tournament MVP, helped run off 10 straight UCLA points and provide a hermetic seal on the 54-39 victory.

"They made every defensive adjustment needed to stop us," said Gaillard later. "I will always wonder if Curtis would have hit those outside shots if they weren't playing at home. Those 25-foot shots aren't that easy for him."

The Bruins' test with Indiana is going to provide nostalgia as well as interest. Wooden's roots are in Hoosier-land, and Bobby Knight is an unabashed disciple of his conservative approach. He even worshiped at Wooden's clinic last fall where, Indiana followers hope, he learned something about how to beat the Bruins.

For a team that relies heavily on two freshmen guards and two sophomore forwards, Indiana showed remarkable poise in its 75-69 victory over Marquette and then again in its 72-65 dash past Kentucky in the Mideast Regional at Nashville. Knight was hit with a technical foul in the opener as his team dropped behind by 10 points, but any lack of control stayed on the perimeter that night, as it did against Kentucky's second-half pressing defense when pliant Indiana bent but did not buckle.

Marquette's troubles actually began on the way to the first game Thursday night. The Warriors, sequestered by Coach Al McGuire in the small town of Franklin outside of Nashville, arrived late when their bus driver dribbled into unfamiliar traffic and got lost. McGuire never quite got his bearings after that, failing to find a solution to Indiana Center Steve Downing's inside moves.

McGuire admitted later that with several minutes left he resigned himself to defeat, pulled starter Larry McNeil and his son Allie from the game and fretted about avoiding an "incident." "I thought there was no way to win even if we were only four down," he said. McGuire spent the final minutes trotting to half court for what he called "a private conversation" with an NCAA official, jogging the length of the floor to shake hands with Knight after calling a time-out with 10 seconds to go and placating McNeil, who was up and pleading to return to action. "I said, 'Larry, it's over,' " recalls McGuire.

All but the shouting. That came in the other Thursday night game when that Nashville Sound was a lot of a-hoot-in' and a-hollerin' by Austin Peay supporters. Kentucky needed an overtime and a depressing attitude from AP freshman star James (Fly) Williams to win 106-100. The preenish Williams jawed at teammates, loafed at times on defense and gestured for the crowd's benefit. His Hamlet was not appreciated by Coach Lake Kelly, who finally told Williams at halftime of the Saturday consolation game with Marquette that his histrionics would not be needed for the rest of the afternoon.

Kentucky Coach Joe Hall and Bobby Knight sometimes fish together during the off-season, but it was Hall who felt gaffed at halftime of the title game as his team trailed 45-32, thanks largely to a case of fumbling hands and trouble with the nimble Downing. Hall stationed his team in a 1-3-1 zone and Kentucky pressed all over the floor in the second half as the Wildcats rallied for a brief lead before Knight started alternating Quinn Buckner and John Laskowski on a high post, where they either lofted jump shots or fed layups to Downing. After a tie at 63-all Indiana outscored Kentucky 9-2 in the final four minutes to suture the victory tighter than a spinster's pocketbook.

Having gone to court to get into the tournament, successfully delaying probationary action by the NCAA over alleged rules violations, Southwestern Louisiana quickly played itself right out of the Midwest Regional at Houston and back down to the bayous. Slowed to a canter by Kansas State, the Ragin' Cajuns sulked, and their lethargy resulted in a 66-63 defeat as Coach Jack Hart-man wisely had his guards force Dwight Lamar away from the middle, where his shooting is so dangerous.

Memphis State, meanwhile, had been pointing for the NCAA final round at St. Louis ever since junior-college transfer Larry (Dr. K) Kenon enrolled and joined Larry (Tubby) Finch and Ronnie Robinson, the team's other drive shafts. First it was Dr. K, who scored 34 points and took down 20 rebounds in a 90-76 dissection of South Carolina. Then Finch picked apart Kansas State in the title game, capping his 32-point performance with a flashy dribbling exhibition as the scoreboard blinked away the final seconds of a 92-72 victory. "Our kids could smell St. Louis when they got here," Bartow said.

Providence, the winner at Charlotte in the East Regional, very much resembles Memphis State, its first-round test this week. The Friars' Marvin Barnes will be an interesting matchup for Memphis State's front line. Barnes intimidated Maryland in the East title game—won 103-89 by Providence—thus gaining a measure of revenge over Tom McMillen, who was picked ahead of him for last year's Olympic team. And then there is Ernie DiGregorio, the jump shot marvel. Ernie D was very offensive to Maryland. He scored 30 points in 27 minutes before departing with five offensive fouls. Everywhere that Ernie fell, there was Maryland's Len Elmore below him shouting foul. "That Elmore's a great actor," snorted DiGregorio, who now will duel with Larry Finch.

What will happen in St. Louis? Providence is the only one of the final four to have played the Bruins this year. The Friars trailed by just eight points with nine minutes left in that confrontation, but Barnes was mired in foul trouble and Kevin Stacom, who kept things going in Providence's opening regional win over Penn as well as the victory over Maryland, had his worst game of the season. Of course, UCLA has a habit of doing that to people. Memphis State, a team of similar talent, pace and mood, will likely fare no better or worse than Providence would against the Bruins.

There is a theory that Indiana's discipline is what is needed to shatter the Bruins' lock on the championship. For sure, Indiana is flying high after slipping past stumbling Minnesota for the Big Ten crown. Downing could be the best big man Walton will look at this year. He is very quick inside and strong, but he has little help on the boards. "I've seen UCLA play on TV, and they're awfully good," says Downing. "But, hey, this has been our goal. And now we've got the chance." As others have before them.

Walton remains the key. Without him UCLA would be just another great team. But no one has stopped the big center since that policeman arrested him at a UCLA peace demonstration. Told that Indiana might be expected to slow down the game, Walton scoffed. "Good. If they plan that, you can tell them to save their plane fare."

PHOTOIndiana's brilliant freshman, Quinn Buckner, barrels in against Kentucky's Jim Andrews. PHOTOErnie D, making the most of his 27-minute game against Maryland, lofts one way up. PHOTOMemphis State's Larry Finch, who dribbled away the clock, runs rings around K-State. PHOTOOff the bench and sky high, UCLA subs Dave Meyers and Tommy Curtis helped rout USF.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)