The Game 3 matchup with Marquette was even more intriguing because it paired the polar opposites of college basketball. When the Indiana bus had pulled up to the teams' hotel a couple of days earlier, Warriors coach Al McGuire's motorcycle was leaning against the front entrance. As the Hoosiers—decked out in sport coats and ties—took their customary postmeal walk the night before the Marquette game, they passed by several Warriors on the lawn, shirtless, listening to music on boom boxes, just chillin'. "Well," Crews said to Abernethy, "different strokes for different folks, I guess. We're pretty good, and they're pretty good."
They were indeed. (All 10 starters would go on to play in the NBA.) As Indiana warmed up, Wilkerson noticed Bo Ellis, Marquette's star forward, pointing to the Hoosiers' retro warmups and laughing. Clearly, this game matched the cool dudes from Milwaukee against the tight-asses from Bloomington. Its funkiness notwithstanding, Marquette was a disciplined team with an excellent half-court offense. Indiana was worried most about the Warriors' quickness and was delighted when the game was played at a moderate pace. What's more, of the two coaches, it was McGuire, not Knight, who lost his cool.
With Indiana leading 51-41 early in the second half, McGuire drew a technical for kicking the scorer's table, and then, with about 25 seconds left and the Hoosiers ahead only 57-54, he leaped from the bench to protest the officiating after a fifth foul was called on guard Earl Tatum and got a second T. Abernethy made both freebies and Wilkerson converted two more to make the 65-56 win appear much more one-sided than it was. Afterward McGuire, who also had been assessed two technicals in the 1974 NCAA championship game against North Carolina State, pledged not to return to the tournament because "I personally feel I'm affecting my club." The next year, though, he did come back—and won his only NCAA title before promptly retiring.
THE FINAL FOUR
UCLA, Indiana's semifinal opponent at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, had splendid personnel and, even with Gene Bartow calling the shots instead of John Wooden, an impressive r�sum�. Still, the Hoosiers didn't worry much about the Bruins, whose All-America frontcourtman, Richard Washington, the MVP of the previous year's tournament, had suggested that UCLA's season-opening loss to Indiana had been a fluke. "Richard liked to run his mouth," says Buckner, "and we heard him."
Indiana considered the Bruins soft, a team that would eventually buckle because the UCLA players, as Radford put it, "just couldn't handle running into a pick every time down the floor." That proved to be the case. The essence of these Hoosiers can be found in Wilkerson's stat line against the Bruins: five shots, five points, seven assists, 19 rebounds. How can you beat a team with two All-Americas (May and Benson) in the frontcourt and a guard who snags 19 rebounds? As for Washington, who was held scoreless for a 26-minute stretch by Abernethy, he was 6 of 15 from the floor. Final: Indiana 65, UCLA 51.
However, if the Hoosiers were looking for omens, they got two bad ones the day before the final against Michigan, which had beaten previously undefeated Rutgers in the other semi. First, Abernethy, who had gotten banged up during the UCLA game, spent most of the day with an ice pack on his knee; there was some doubt whether he could start the following evening. Second, early in the morning, Donewald discovered to his horror that a manager had packed the previous year's Michigan game films but not the ones from the two games in '75-76. He called back to Indiana and got someone from the School of Aviation to fly the film from Bloomington to Philadelphia on a university plane. "We were only about an hour late with the meeting," recalls Donewald. "Bob was so dumbfounded I had acted on my own authority—I don't even want to think about how much it cost-that he didn't say anything to me."
The pregame angle was obvious: As good as Indiana was, it faced a difficult assignment in beating Michigan for the third time. Three minutes into the game, Wilkerson, attempting to thwart a fast break after May had been stripped, got clubbed in the temple by an elbow from Wolverines forward Wayman Britt. Wilkerson was out cold, and the game was held up for about eight minutes before he was taken off on a stretcher. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he wouldn't allow a nurse to take off his uniform. "Maybe I thought I'd be getting back in," he says.
The next thing Wilkerson remembers was staring up at bedside visitors Knight and John Havlicek, Knight's former Ohio State teammate. To this day Wilkerson, whom Knight later called the best athlete he ever coached, has never seen a videotape or heard a replay of the final. "It would hurt too much," he says. Out on the court, meanwhile, the Hoosiers had to regroup. "I'm sure our fans were freaking out and thinking, Oh, no, they're going to fall short again," says Abernethy. "But, honestly, as a team, I don't think we thought that at all." Nonetheless, Michigan had a 35-29 half-time lead.
As May recalls it, this was the entirety of Knight's halftime speech: "If you guys want to be champions and make history, you got 20 minutes to prove it." Then he walked out. "Somebody told me later that Coach Knight had been waiting two years to deliver that speech," says May.