Nevada, Las Vegas had Coach Jerry (Tark the Shark) Tarkanian and a roster of runners and gunners whose idea of discipline was to take no shots unless they were over the half-court line. Pepperdine would have had a team leader in Brazilian Center Marcos Leite if only his teammates understood Portuguese. Arizona had Coach Fred (the Fox) Snowden and a gimpy Greek guard known as "The Six-Million-Dollar Man." But none of these was ever really a factor. The NCAA West Regional was being held in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion where the Bruins had lost only three games in 11 years.
Of course, most UCLA basketball teams are good enough to win playing on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the current outfit is no exception. So last week the Bruins, led by juniors Marques Johnson and Richard Washington, won their 167th and 168th victories in Pauley, their 12th Regional out of the last 13 and, most phenomenal of all, their 45th and 46th NCAA-tournament games out of their last 47.
The victims: Pepperdine 70-61 and Arizona 82-66. The method: spurts. UCLA has more spurts than an open artery. Against Pepperdine, the team from Malibu that had surprisingly won the West Coast Athletic Conference, UCLA led by only one point with nine minutes to go. Then the Bruins went into their post-office routine, leaping up and stamping "canceled" on Pepperdine's shots and suddenly the lead was nine and the game was gone. Against Arizona the score was 58-58 with 8:21 to go, but in approximately the next seven minutes UCLA outscored the Wildcats 18-2 and that game was over.
Naturally, the three opposing coaches would rather have played in a lion's cage than at Pauley. Pepperdine's Gary Colson, usually affable, was the loudest and most frequent complainer, estimating that the home-court advantage was worth 15 points to UCLA. Once there, however, the Waves, as surfside Pepperdine's teams are aptly nicknamed, did all right and might indeed have won except that UCLA Centers Ralph Drollinger and David Greenwood did a strong defensive job on the Brazilian Leite, who was the second-leading scorer in the Munich Olympics and who had poured in 29, 28 and 34 points in his previous three games. UCLA held him to 16.
March 29, 1976
The most entertaining game of the regional was Arizona (23-8) versus Nevada, Las Vegas (29-1, with the only loss coming to Pepperdine). Vegas had Eddie Owens, a half-black, half-Japanese hotshot from Houston, and seven other stars, the eight of them known to the casino cognoscenti as the Hardway Eight. The Runnin' Rebels ran all right, and shot with abandon. Sam Smith, whose brother Willie starred for Missouri in the Midwest Regional, let fly with some shots from mortar range and he almost matched Arizona's Herm (the Germ) Harris, who scored 31 points.
But the real star of the show was The Six-Million-Dollar Man, Jim Rappis, a bionic senior from Wisconsin who has been plagued by ankle injuries, a ruptured appendix, broken blood vessels in his left eye and a bad back. Rappis suffered a painful bruise on his left arch in the first half but insisted on returning to the game. Hobbling around the court, he still managed 12 assists and 24 points (on deadly long-range shooting) and received a standing ovation when he fouled out with 40 seconds left in regulation.
Arizona, which had been missing from the free-throw line, suddenly found its touch when the game went into overtime. The Wildcats beat the Rebels 114-109, scoring all their points in the extra period on free throws.
Against UCLA, Arizona's imposing front line of 6'8" Al Fleming, 6'8" Phil Taylor and 6'10" Bob Elliott took command of the boards and its inside game looked unstoppable, with one or another of the beef trust going to the hoop with ease. "Beatin' heads on the boards" was the phrase Washington used later. But it seems to be the mark of UCLA teams that when the opposition plays with fire, brimstone and that favorite word of coaches, "intensity," the Bruins manage to stay ahead or close behind until the fire subsides. Despite everything Arizona did, UCLA led at the half 38-35.
The second half was close, too, until that 18-2 blitz that sent the Fox back to Tucson, voicing praise for UCLA but adding a dig at having to play at such an unneutral site as Pauley. "I would like to take them to McKale, our home court, and be in the last seven minutes and have a shot at the final of the West Regional."
The happiest Bruin in the locker room was Andre McCarter, who, after UCLA's loss to Notre Dame in late January, began a rite of penance or rededication—dribbling a basketball to classes, to the store, to the Forum for pro games, to the bathroom, to practically everywhere he went. He would no doubt be willing to follow the bouncing ball on foot all the way to Philadelphia, for that is his hometown and he has never played there as a collegian.
"I told my teammates that if they'd get me home," said McCarter, "I'd try to take care of everything else for 'em." Trouble is, "everything else" includes Indiana.