The real star of the Midwest regional in Oklahoma City was Marquette's Al McGuire, who added to his impressive record for drawing technical fouls in the NCAA tournament and to his stature as a coach. McGuire, 48, who is retiring after 20 seasons of directing "guys in short pants," also blasted the NCAA in a long and loud St. Patrick's Day tirade, rode a borrowed motorcycle through the Oklahoma countryside and, not incidentally, guided his team to victories over Kansas State (67-66) and Wake Forest (82-68). For one more week referees would have Al McGuire to kick around, or vice versa.
Of course, there were Marquette luminaries on court, too, most notably Guard Butch Lee, a member of last year's Puerto Rican Olympic team. Lee's ball handling and accurate jump shots won him the regional outstanding player award and were the key factors, along with the Warriors' usual stingy defense, in getting Marquette to the final four.
The first game of the regional was the best. Kansas State, short but quick and well coached by Jack Hartman, went in with an 11-game winning streak and led at the half 36-28. The Wildcats were still ahead by eight with a bit more than 11 minutes left in the game when Referee Frank Buckiewiscz hit McGuire with a technical. McGuire had put his hand to his throat and yelled something about choking, and Buckiewiscz assumed the comment was meant for him. Al pleaded that he was merely telling his own players that K-State was tightening up. Buckiewiscz refused to hear his plea, and the Wildcats made two free throws to lead by 10.
It appeared that McGuire had harmed his team once again, just as he had by drawing technicals in the '74 and '76 tournaments. But it didn't turn out that way this time. Marquette, either stirred up by the fuss or making a run it would have made anyway, or both, outscored Kansas State 17-4 in the next few minutes, took the lead and managed to hang on for the one-point win.
March 28, 1977
Afterward McGuire unleashed his Irish temper and flayed the NCAA: "I coach exactly the same no matter where I am, and every time I come to the NCAA they end up calling technicals on me. Now it's absolutely wrong and I'm not a crybaby. I've been quiet for the last 10 years.... Now there's too much smoke in back rooms or too much whispering or too much something going on.... To call a technical foul at that time of a game is a mortal sin!"
That off his chest, McGuire was relatively serene during the regional final against Wake Forest, which had eliminated Southern Illinois 86-80 despite a marvelous second-half shooting exhibition by SIU's Mike Glenn. But again, despite Lee's soft, arcing jumper, Marquette was behind at halftime 35-31, and again it seemed that McGuire was coaching his last game. He had left his hotel that morning thinking, "Well, that's perhaps the last suite in my life. No more two bathrooms."
McGuire insists that he knows nothing about X's and O's, that he leaves such mundane work to his assistants. Sure enough, his second assistant, Rick Majerus, suggested that in the second half they use a hybrid defense called the "triangle and two." Guards Jim Boylan and Lee would attach themselves like leeches to Wake Forest stars Jerry Schellenberg and Skip Brown, but the other three Warriors would deploy in a triangle-shaped zone around the key. That and an excellent job by sixth man Bernard Toone made the difference, Marquette winning by 14.
Wake Forest Coach Carl Tacy was full of praise for the 6'9" sophomore Toone: "He's a tremendous athlete. The work he did inside was as good as I've seen a man his size do this season."
It was obvious that the Warriors had a special motivation for winning. "No one has expressed it openly," said Boylan, "but it would be nice for Coach McGuire to end up his career with an NCAA title." Added Lee, "It would be a great way for him to go out."
So McGuire's coaching career was extended to at least one more game, one more trip, one more hotel suite. The doings in Atlanta are sure to be more fun with Al around.