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Frank Deford
December 20, 1965
UCLA crossed the country to discover in back-to-back games that Duke no longer fears the famous press, can handle it easily and will be a powerful contender for the Bruins' national championship
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December 20, 1965

A Lost Weekend In Carolina

UCLA crossed the country to discover in back-to-back games that Duke no longer fears the famous press, can handle it easily and will be a powerful contender for the Bruins' national championship

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Bubas had sat for long sessions at the projector, watching reruns of the Duke- UCLA championship game of 1964, which UCLA won 98-83. He convinced first himself and then his team that the press had been only incidental in the defeat. Also Bubas lectured: "Any team that plays the press is going to make it work a few times in any game. Don't get upset when that happens. Expect it." He demonstrated how it was impossible for two pressers to take the ball away from any man who would, if necessary, resign himself to the lesser of two evils and settle for a jump ball instead of a lost ball. As a final fillip, the regulars ran against a UCLA press set up by the scrubs. After the first team had cracked it about 10 straight times, Assistant Coach Chuck Daly whistled things to a halt and told everyone to hold his place. He then asked the surprised regulars to observe that they had been making it all along against a six-man scrub team. (The thought that hit everyone at once was: aha, that's the way UCLA has been doing it all along.) Anyway, the regular Devils absorbed this impressive news and went right back to breaking the six-man press.

Bubas' game strategy was neither particularly complicated nor original. Forward Jack Marin's high school team had used the same ploy, and so had Duke itself against UCLA two seasons ago. But the execution by the Blue Devils was so superb that after one early foul-up in the opening game they succeeded 32 times in a row. Vacendak was the key. "It might have been a different story without him bringing it up," UCLA Assistant Coach Jerry Norman said. Vacendak would handle the inbounds pass, then usually would get the ball back from Marin or Guard Bob Verga. He had the task of finding a way upcourt. He seldom was guilty of what Bubas calls "promiscuous dribbling," and never of panic. "The main objective of the press is not just to steal the ball," Wooden said after it was all over. "Some teams get excited and, well, lose their poise. Duke," he added, smiling, "never lost its poise."

Duke used a constant but well-planned movement against the press, with players shifting to fill spots just vacated by teammates. The Blue Devils set up in a 1-2-2, Marin and Verga split to receive the ball from Vacendak, Forward Bob Riedy and Center Mike Lewis on opposite sides around midcourt. If the ball went to Verga, Marin would cut cross-court and down. (Wooden's 2-2-1 in the first half of the second game restricted this movement best.) Vacendak would then come in for the return pass, and the big man on what had become the weak side would move in and set up a screen. This hurt UCLA considerably. "The press works best," said Wooden, "if we can keep them from bringing it up the middle."

The final Duke move was for the other big man—Riedy or Lewis, whichever was still left around midcourt—to make a V-shaped run back to distract Lacey and then go up again to midcourt on the other side, where the position had just been vacated. This man turned out, almost invariably, to be the escape man, but more often than not he was not needed—Vacendak, Verga or Marin would have dribbled free. Only seven times in the first game did Duke have to go to a third pass (and never more) after getting the ball in play.

The UCLA press has not been made pass� by this weekend bout against Vacendak and friends, however. The Bruin zone had already shattered Ohio State, a plodding team, and Illinois, a fast team that got tired. Particularly if Goss comes back the Bruins may still win in the West and then would need only two victories in the NCAA final round for a third straight title. How UCLA manages against slow but big and strong Kansas this Friday in Los Angeles should indicate whether the zone is especially vulnerable now or vulnerable only to clever little devils like the Blue ones.

Both Duke and UCLA set up with close-in perimeter defenses that plugged the middle and gave away the long shot. But it was no contest. Duke can shoot, and UCLA cannot. ("We can't even hit in practice," Wooden says.) In the two games Duke took one less shot but made 11 more baskets. Though Duke almost always plays tight defense from midcourt, Bubas was able to call off that tactic and sink back throughout the competition. Wooden, though, was forced into playing close defense farther out in the second game. That was of no avail either. Duke hit 45% from outside, UCLA 34%.

Duke also ruled the boards, thanks mostly to sophomore Mike Lewis, a 6-foot-7 225-pounder who scored 16 points and had 21 rebounds (10 offensively, six of which he turned into baskets) in the Durham game. This effort demoralized UCLA as much as Vacendak's ball control. The next night Verga hit 10 for 14, Marin 10 for 15 and Riedy 6 for 10. Though the lyrics were a little different, the melody was the same as in the first dance around.

The games were played to packed houses both nights and were marred only by indications that the three Negroes from UCLA—Warren, Lacey and Kenny Washington—had been upset by crude racial taunts. If true, it was a tiny red-neck minority that shouted such epithets, though the home crowds, especially the one on the Duke campus, were extremely loud and enthusiastic.

Whatever the cause, Lacey and Washington did play atrociously in Durham, and Wooden yanked them early. He gave up wholly, it seemed, when he pulled out all of his regulars with more than 10 minutes to play and the Bruins down by 14—a deficit UCLA often has overcome. This irked many who felt that Wooden should have gone all the way with his best, but he protested that he was getting ready for conference play and that there was another game the next night to rest for. Also he said that his first team—Negro and white—was not playing very well.

The next night the rested Bruins hardly did better, and at the Charlotte Coliseum there were no racial cracks. Sadder, perhaps, were the cries from the stands that were aimed simply at individual UCLA players—as players, and as losers. Kenny Washington, struggling through a second bad game, was the particular target of one loudmouth. "Kenny shot up Duke two years ago, and this guy had not forgotten. Washington comes from just down the road, from Beaufort, S.C., and his father, other relatives and close friends were a lonely few rooting for the visitors.

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