Well there they are, America. The, uh, Final Four. The what? Yes, really. Purdue. UCLA. Iowa. Louisville. Aw, come on. Purdue-UCLA sounds like a Bluebonnet Bowl. Iowa-Louisville must be that new route on the Amtrak. Well, then, how about the Quizzical Quartet?
No matter what they are called, the four rather mysterious teams that will show up at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis this weekend for the NCAA finals surely had to be survivors; improbable yet undeniable survivors of the wildest, wackiest national tournament since Jimmy (Peaches) Naismith tacked up his basket.
Louisville's season-long consistency and the levitating presence of Darrell Griffith may have presaged the Cardinals' making it to the final four, but what about surprising Purdue—third place in the Big Ten Purdue—and its quiet warrior, Joe Barry Carroll? What of rejuvenated UCLA—fourth place in the Pac-10 UCLA—risen from the ruins? And how about brainy and bandaged Iowa—tied for fourth place in the, again, Big Ten Iowa—whose hang-in Hawkeyes had to go all the way to North Carolina's Tobacco Road to get to Philadelphia's Main Line to pass Go before making it back to their own league territory?
This year's teams bring to Indy a total of 29 defeats, no Birds and not much Magic. But they have demonstrated enough will, courage, teamwork and endurance to have outlasted everybody else. Hey, that's what it's all about.
Address a question to the Purdue center and he'll duck it. Show a rim to the Purdue forwards and they'll miss it. Give the basketball to the Purdue guards and they'll throw it away. Ah, but locate the Mideast Regional of the NCAA tournament in Lexington, Ky. and The Rose—not Bette Midler but The Rose, Purdue's Lee Rose—will coach the daylights out of everybody and end up winning the whole thing.
That is just about what happened—again—in that little patch of bluegrass by the backboards. In 1977 Rose brought his UNC-Charlotte team into Rupp Arena and upset Syracuse and No. 1-ranked Michigan on the way to the final four. Then last week Rose advanced to and from the same place after Purdue derailed one holy crusade (Indiana's), then another (Duke's) to climax a thoroughly uneven and illogical series of events.
Home-standing Kentucky was the favorite in the Mideast, but what most people forgot was that the Wildcat players only live in Lexington. Lee Rose was born nearby; he was raised in town, and at heart he has never left.
Rose grew up in his mother's boarding house for UK students on Maxwell Street. He sat in the rafters watching games at the old Memorial Coliseum. He attended local Henry Clay High and Transylvania College. He coached at Transylvania and nearly became Adolph Rupp's head assistant and possible successor at Kentucky. He still seeks coaching advice from his 73-year-old mother, Elizabeth, who last week ordered the Boilermakers to have some fun and, oh yes, "get after 'em." Which they subsequently did in two defensive games, 76-69 over Indiana and 68-60 over Duke.
Much humor was made of the finalists' credentials, Purdue and Duke having finished third and in a tie for fifth in the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, with 17 defeats between them. Nothing the uptight, nervous teams did on Saturday could invigorate a terrible game. Whether it was the letdown from Thursday night's emotional victories—Duke upset Kentucky 55-54 on the strength of a near-perfect first half—or the pressure of living up to images, no one could tell.
Both turnover-plagued teams seemed to be trying to figure out which was more surprised to be there: while Duke bumbled and stumbled around, Purdue simply couldn't shoot. One astute observer said that if Purdue (which has a .478 field-goal percentage this season) were a firing squad, the condemned would suffer only shoulder wounds.
The heralded duel between the 7'1" Carroll and Duke's 6'11" Mike Gminski finally heated up with about nine minutes left in the game when Carroll banked in a short jumper and Gminski answered with a little whirl-drive against which Carroll committed his fourth foul. With Joe Barry on the bench and Purdue leading 51-48, Purdue went into a stall that lasted, Rose was to say later, "a precious" three minutes and 15 seconds.
Inexplicably, Duke Coach Bill Foster had taken out Gminski and Power Forward Gene Banks, so he rushed them back in the first chance he got. But here came Carroll, too. After Boilermaker Guard Brian Walker made a rally-crushing steal from Vince Taylor, Purdue foul shots helped stretch the margin to 58-50 and to 62-54.
Gminski tipped one in at 1:35, and in the next 41 seconds Purdue turned the ball over three times. But Taylor, another hometown boy, didn't make good—he missed from the baseline—freshman Chip Engelland missed badly from outside, and Taylor missed again. No cigars anywhere. Suddenly there were 54 seconds left, Banks was fouling out, Carroll was converting two free throws (64-56) and the old-gold-and-black-clad Purdue mobs were chanting "J-B-C, J-B-C."
In addition to scoring a game-high 26 points (Gminski had 17 and Banks 14 for Duke), Carroll finally scored with the media people, who were beginning to wonder if he might be Marcel Marceau on stilts. Joe Barry speaks.
"I haven't seen the stats yet. Coach said it was a good night. I gave it the best shot. I'd have to see the films," J.B.C. said.
"You allow respect to generate competition, and once you get past that, you leave it there, you just play 'em," J.B.C. said.
"My motivation is, basically, internalized; external stimulus is not a constant," J.B.C. said.
Yeah, well, thanks, J.B.C. Now back to you, Walter.
Another friend of the press was Indiana Coach Bobby Knight ("Sir Bob," Rose called him), who explained how his technical foul at halftime of the Purdue-Indiana game—over a play that resulted in a measly nine-point swing, giving Purdue a 41-26 lead 10 seconds into the second half—"had no bearing on the outcome." He didn't reveal, however, why he kept the bewildered Hoosiers back home for practices, moved the team from the press hotel to another or kept yanking senior Co-Captain Butch Carter in and out of the game.
"I'd never seen that look in their eyes," Purdue's Arnette Hallman said of the Hoosiers. "They had no control over what was happening." Nor did the normally taciturn Lee Rose when on Saturday afternoon, victory assured, he heaved his program high in the air. It may have landed over on Maxwell Street. Or, like the Purdue Boilermakers, it could have wafted all the way to Indianapolis.