Trivia. What father of a famous 1984 U.S. Olympian made two free throws in an NCAA championship game? Answer: Ron Retton (Mary Lou's dad) for West Virginia in 1959.
By the time UCLA's Walton had made 21 of 22 shots and scored 44 points against Memphis State in the championship game of 1973, it had already been forgotten that the best individual 12 minutes of that or any other Final Four might have been played in an earlier game and in defeat. In the first half of Memphis State's semifinal victory over Providence, the Friars' 6-foot Ernie DiGregorio was simply the greatest guard who ever lived. With an assortment of exquisite shots, whiplash dribbling, lob bomb passes and between-the-limbs playmaking, DiGregorio blew the helpless Tigers out of the St. Louis Arena. He sent an 80-foot behind-the-back bounce pass to Marvin Barnes for a layup; then a 60-foot chest pass to Kevin Stacom for another; and again a 40-foot behind-the-backer to Barnes for a third. This marvelous athlete had astonished witnesses roaring and itching to see what Walton and mighty UCLA could possibly do against his brilliant legerdemain.
At halftime, Providence led 49-40; DiGregorio had scored 17 points and was responsible for 15 of the team's 22 baskets. But Ernie D did not step inside that Friar locker room. At the 12�-minute mark of the opening period Barnes had gone to the bench with a knee injury, and so DiGregorio paced furiously in the corridor, pounding his fist against the wall, seething with frustration and hurt. He knew that with Bad Marvin down, the Friars were out. And he was right.
Pete Blackman played for UCLA in 1962, Wooden's first Final Four team, the Bruin club that finished fourth. In January 1963, while he was serving in the Navy in Hawaii, Blackman received a letter from Wooden, which included a bit of free verse:
"However, Pete, there's optimism
Beneath my valid criticism
I want to say—yes, I'll foretell
Eventually this team will jell,
And when they do, they will be great,
A championship could be their fate,
With every starter coming back
Yes, Walt and Gail and Keith and Jack
And Fred and Freddie and some more
We could be champs in sixty-four."
Twelve years and three months later, the Bruins had been NCAA champions 10 times over.
The Player. Benny Anders was something of a mythic figure before he reached the Final Four. Hip, flashy, and bright, Benny already had learned how to act and talk on his feet and look like a movie star. At Houston, however, he got the reputation of being the puerile Akeem Olajuwon's walk-around guy. In reality, Akeem was Anders's foil. "All I get is some vicious pine," said sixth-man Anders in a memorable State-of-the-Phi Slamma Jamma message, "but I got the utensils. I drop a dime on the big Swahili, he got to put it in the hole."
In the 1983 semifinals against Louisville, Akeem did just that and so did Benny and the rest of the Houston fraternity, 14 phenomenal dunks' worth, in as electrifying an athletic performance as has ever been seen in a Final Four.
Anders was in full, glorious cry, once fashioning the most spellbinding slammer of them all: a quarter-court leap over a flock of taller Cardinals followed by a dive across Albuquerque's "Pit" in which, he said in another classic line, "I took it to the rack and I stuck it." He arose from this incomprehensible play to stomp and parade in front of the enraptured Houston rooting section, clapping and crowing while some of his awestruck teammates rushed from the bench to watch the replay on a nearby TV monitor.
In the championship game, Houston met sudden doom at the hand of N.C. State. But even with that, Benny almost won it. Barely an inch more, and the lunging Anders would have intercepted a shaky Wolfpack pass and gone the distance for the winning jam.