It's right over here. Some cheerleaders found the body. Pretty tore up. Can't figure it. See all those championship rings. Looks like some Hoosiers got hold of him and hit him with the St. Louis arch a couple of times, shot him full of jump shots, beat him on the boards and tore his arms off when he tried to handle the ball. Anybody seen ol' man UCLA lately? Lots of people had it in for him, you know.
Even John Wooden would have had to check the dental records to identify what was left of UCLA last week. His old team looked as if it had been staring down both barrels of a shotgun when Indiana pulled the trigger. The blast shattered a dynasty.
Indiana humbled the Bruins and humiliated their new coach, Gene Bartow, a tough blow for a man already burdened with the problems of replacing Wooden and sustaining the UCLA magic that has produced 10 NCAA championships in the last 12 years. It was billed as a grand beginning to the college basketball season, but it turned into a showcase strictly for Indiana. The Hoosiers owned the game from start to finish, gaining a measure of solace for their defeat at the hands of Kentucky in last year's NCAA tournament. Indiana had been 31-0 before that loss, and for the past eight months the Hoosiers have been impatiently waiting to make up for it. When UCLA was left for dead, Indiana had its vindication and then some. The Hoosiers astonished a sellout crowd of 19,115 in the St. Louis Arena and a nationwide television audience with an 84-64 victory in a non-contest that was not even as close as the score.
When Indiana lost last year, Forward Scott May played with his left arm in a cast. This time he was sound, and his performance lent credence to the Hoosiers' argument that if May had not been hurt, they would have been national champions last spring instead of UCLA. He scored 33 points, including nine straight shots in the second half as Indiana pulled to a 26-point lead. May had plenty of help, particularly from Kent Benson. The hulking junior center dominated the inside play and exemplified the frenzied Indiana approach. After 10 minutes he and his teammates were so exhausted that they needed to call a time-out. Hustle is the Hoosiers' thumbprint, and it has never been more apparent than in this game. They got every loose ball and rebound they had a chance for—and some they didn't.
December 8, 1975
The play reflected contrasting pregame attitudes. UCLA viewed this as little more than just another opener. Its problems of adjusting to Bartow's system and working some freshmen into the lineup go far beyond the game with Indiana. The Hoosiers approached the game with the fervor of crusaders. Bartow grumbled over devoting so many drills to preparing for an opening game when he should have been getting to know his players. Indiana was practicing twice a day and talking to no one. A friend called Benson early Thanksgiving evening and asked what he thought. "I have to go to bed," he answered.
A sign of how richly Indiana's dedication would pay off came early last month in its game against the touring Soviet national team. Winning by 16 points, the Hoosiers looked marvelous, especially on defense; it appeared that the Russian guards needed a passport to get the ball over the half-court line. And in a series of intrasquad scrimmages around the state, May demonstrated that his arm was healed completely by averaging more than 30 points. There was one moment of concern when he slipped and wrenched his knee near the end of a workout in Fort Wayne. Coach Bob Knight was so shocked that he canceled the rest of that exhibition, but May's injury turned out to be minor, and legions of Hoosier fans immediately resumed buying bumper stickers and buttons that proclaim: WE'RE NO. 1.
Meanwhile, UCLA and Bartow were growing apprehensive. The Bruins played a desultory game against the Australian National team a week before the St. Louis extravaganza. They did not even shoot their free throws well. Their backcourt play had been particularly lackluster, and Bartow turned up at UCLA's next practice in an exasperated mood. He had a sore throat, an upset stomach and a briefcase full of unanswered questions. "We're not near where we should be," he said. "It looks like we may not be set at guard before mid-December. Sometimes I think I should just go ahead, make a decision and stick with it. Woody Hayes already would have this decided, right or wrong."
Part of the dilemma Bartow faces was epitomized by an incident that occurred several days before the game against Indiana. UCLA Assistant Coach Lee Hunt was walking through the athletic department when someone wished him good luck for the season.
"We'll be all right," answered Hunt with a measure of sarcasm, "if we win them all."
The man paused for a moment, then said, "Yeah, for 10 years."
The most serious immediate concern centered around Guards Andre McCarter and Jim Spillane and prize freshmen Brad Holland and Roy Hamilton. Bartow called it his toughest decision in 20 years of coaching; he ended up choosing the older pair. McCarter and Spillane would start. In fact, the freshmen would not even make the trip to St. Louis, since a new NCAA rule allows a team only 10 players for road games. That left Holland to earn his baptism under fire in a different manner. The brush fires north of Los Angeles last week threatened his parents' home and forced them to evacuate. The rest of the UCLA team was beginning to feel some heat, too. "We need a win," admitted Spillane. "It'll help relax the coaches."
In the week before leaving for St. Louis, Bartow installed a play cribbed from last year's book. He hoped it would bring more movement to an offense that had become as undependable as a dashboard clock. And he had the Bruins practice against a six-man, then a seven-man defense, trying to give them a taste of Indiana's pressure.
Hunt scouted the Hoosiers game with the Soviets and reported that they were in "midseason form." Indiana's demolition defense particularly worried him. "They've got five guys fouling at the same time, and it's hard for the officials to pick out one man," he said gravely. "On offense they set a lot of moving picks, and Knight intimidates the referees so much that they don't call it."
St. Louis, theoretically, was a neutral site for the game, but it is only five hours by car from Bloomington, Ind. More than 8,000 fans and the school band made the trip. UCLA did not even have its cheerleaders; they had remained in Los Angeles to root for the football team against Southern Cal the night before. The St. Louis Arena had a definite red and white color scheme.
And because of the Indiana defense there was a little black and blue mixed in. The effectiveness of the Hoosiers' pressure tactics can be credited to the bruising play of Guards Quinn Buckner and Bob Wilkerson. So far Buckner has overshadowed Wilkerson, but that could change. It is hard to overlook a 6'7" backcourt man who jumps center and has arms that seem to telescope. "I can gamble on defense because with his arms Bobby can take two guys," says Buckner. Wilkerson is as coy about his wingspan as Zsa Zsa is about her age. "Just put down that I need extra-extra-long shirts," he says.
With a decided disadvantage at guard, UCLA needed a big game inside, especially from Center Ralph Drollinger. The erratic, skinny seven-footer had come through before, particularly in last season's title game against Kentucky, but Benson held Drollinger to two points and two rebounds and made the UCLA center as insignificant a factor as background music. Benson approached the game in his usual ravenous fashion. On Wednesday night he devoured a steak for three. His appetite is legendary, and this year he looks as quick with his feet as with his fork. "Strong?" says muscular ex-footballer Buckner. "Kent threw me out of the gym one day. I won't mess with him anymore."
Indiana was taking no chances that the Bruins would get a sneak preview of the test that awaited them. Ever fearful of dark deeds by opponents, the Hoosiers even put out a cover story as part of "Operation Decoy." They made early reservations at one motel, then at the very last minute checked into another, just in case the Bruins had infiltrated the bellboy corps. Knight did not coach at Army for nothing.
Indiana was especially security conscious because it had a couple of gambles in mind, and almost as soon as the game began it became clear that the Hoosiers had rolled winners on both. Benson needed desperately to stay out of foul trouble, since his backup, 6'8" Mark Haymore, was left off the traveling squad and the tallest player on the bench was a mere 6'5". That one worked out beautifully when Benson committed only one foul in the first half.
The second tactic also clicked. May is the team's best defensive player, a man who makes fewer mistakes than a veteran of the bomb squad. So he guarded the Bruins' quick Marques Johnson, while the slower Tom Abernethy had to cover towering Rich Washington. UCLA started the game by forcing the ball inside to Washington. He had the open shots but missed, and Indiana edged into a lead that forced UCLA to play catch-up from the opening moments. With Wilkerson and Buckner pressuring the guards and May, Abernethy and Benson slapping away passes into the middle, UCLA never established its inside offense.
Before the game Buckner had complained to the officials that the floor was slippery. It was a hot, humid night in St. Louis, the playing surface was laid over an ice hockey rink and a film of condensation made it treacherous. Even this helped Indiana. At the half the Hoosiers had a 36-28 lead so UCLA had to keep hurrying to catch up on the slippery floor. And the Bruins literally fell down in their efforts. "The floor kept getting worse, and so did we," moaned McCarter.
But the increasing dampness of the court in the second half was hardly the worst of UCLA's woes. It was already obvious that the Bruins were in deep trouble when Indiana held the halftime lead though it had shot only 35%. The last 20 minutes were a different story. The Hoosier defense attracts most of the raves, but their offense proved to be just as good. They crowded everyone in close and ran UCLA through a maze of picks and reverses for open shots. The Bruins were caught in a revolving door and never did find the way out.
Buckner began the second half by posting the smaller Spillane low and scoring six quick points. Then May hit an open jumper, Abernethy laid in a basket and Indiana was ahead by 16. The only Los Angeles team that is going to beat the Hoosiers once they have a lead like that in the second half is the Lakers.
The margin mounted inexorably. It was 72-46 with 6:37 to go, and Indiana was still performing as if it was not going to take any prisoners. Knight was at the scorer's table arguing vehemently that he had three, not two, time-outs left. Already he had kicked over a chair and chewed out an official over a questionable goaltending call that would have given his club a 22-point lead with 8:41 to play. He did not send in his second string until less than a minute remained—another example of how much Indiana wanted a big victory.
This was UCLA's first opening game defeat since 1964. That year the Bruins had only two starters returning from a national championship club, but they went on to compile a 28-2 record and win another NCAA title. This year's team will not be as bad as it looked last week. "They'll be back," said Buckner. And a funereal Bartow predicted better things to come "within a couple of weeks."
The Bruins probably will have to look to their freshmen before those better things begin happening. Along with the young guards, Bartow has 6'10" David Greenwood, who plays forward or center. Greenwood made a brief appearance in the first half against Indiana and seemed lost, although he did chip in with some good play near the end of the game. "It appeared as if we didn't know what we were doing tonight," said Greenwood. "Next time it'll be a different story. We just need some time." And maybe a different team to play against. UCLA, for the first game in a long, long while, was simply overmatched.