SI Vault
Joe Jares
December 19, 1966
Lew Alcindor was devastating, intimidating and more. But he was not the whole show, as Duke found out when it swarmed around the giant sophomore and all but ignored his very good UCLA teammates
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December 19, 1966

The Biggest Bruin Had Friends

Lew Alcindor was devastating, intimidating and more. But he was not the whole show, as Duke found out when it swarmed around the giant sophomore and all but ignored his very good UCLA teammates

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The UCLA 1966-67 basketball press booklet is a handsome little compendium filled with all pertinent information except the phone numbers of the pompon girls. For instance, it reports that the team captain in 1937 was Orv Appleby. A freshman forward named Vytas Katilius is an engineering major. Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy once did malaria research. And there is a load of facts and figures on past Bruin heroes—Don Barksdale, Willie Naulls, Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich. Great care went into compiling two pages of school and Pauley Pavilion records. On the blue, gold and white cover is a grainy, surrealistic photograph of senior Forward Mike Lynn pulling down a rebound. All in all, the press guide is a good introduction to the current UCLA team, the unanimous pick to win the NCAA championship. But last week, because of alternately happy and unhappy events, the booklet's record pages and cover were already obsolete, though the season has hardly begun.

In the home opener with USC, 19 records were broken as towering sophomore Lew Alcindor dropped in, literally, 56 points against a man-to-man defense. Last weekend Duke's Blue Devils tried a zone defense, with two and sometimes three men surrounding Alcindor, and they were beaten by 34 points one night and 20 points the next. Alcindor, who is agile, strong and, most important, 7 feet 1? inches tall, scored 57 points in the two games and prompted Duke Coach Vic Bubas to say, "He destroys you, that's what he does." Alcindor's junior and sophomore teammates did a good share of the destroying too.

Just how devastating the Bruins are may be understood more clearly if you realize they trounced a good Duke team without using two of the better forwards in the nation, Edgar Lacey and Cover Boy Mike Lynn. Lacey was the team's leading rebounder as a sophomore. Last season he missed the final seven games because of a knee injury. The knee still bothered him in the first week of practice this winter, so he will undergo corrective surgery this month and return next season. Dr. Robert Kerlan, the caretaker of Sandy Koufax's elbow and Elgin Baylor's knees, will perform the operation. Bruin Coach Johnny Wooden said Lacey was not only an exceptional rebounder but the important last man in the zone press as well.

Lynn's absence must have been harder for Wooden to take because it was so unnecessary. A few nights before the USC game, Lynn and his roommate, Larry McCollister, a former freshman player, were arrested in a West Los Angeles department store. A store detective said they had attempted to purchase phonograph records with a credit card that had been reported lost. They were booked on suspicion of forgery, a felony, and released on $1,000 bail each.

It was too late to erase the press booklet cover and, equally embarrassing, too late to alter a full-page feature in the USC-game program entitled, Spotlighting UCLA's Mike Lynn. University officials say Lynn is a good student, has never been in trouble before and, although present at the time, was not the one who tried to imitate the credit card signature. Pending a court decision in the case, the school said, he could practice with the team but could not represent UCLA in games. Even if the courts only slap Mike's wrists, he faces possible punishment from the university or its image-conscious athletic department ("We're the last great bastion of student discipline that exists on this campus," said Athletic Director J. D. Morgan).

The loss of Lacey and then of Lynn took muscle and valuable experience away from UCLA. Lynn is 6 feet 7, 210 pounds and an expert at tapping the ball into the basket. As Bruin shots rolled around the rim in practice last week (the few times they did not drop in cleanly), one of Lynn's hands was usually poised above to nudge the ball back on course. He played on the 1964-65 NCAA champion team and last season led the team in scoring and rebounding.

Lynn was in street clothes on the sidelines for the USC game, and a man from Duke was there, too, to take notes between gasps. UCLA beat a surprisingly good Trojan team by 15 points. Nobody could stop Alcindor, but then nobody could stop USC's Bill Hewitt either (he scored 39 points). "When it's man-to-man, Lew can score any time he gets the ball," said new Trojan Coach Bob Boyd. It was a nonconference game and most spectators felt USC would use more than one mere human being on Alcindor the next time the teams meet in league play. There also was a feeling that a top team (and Duke has been one for six straight years), sagging in on Alcindor and somewhat ignoring the inexperienced corner men, could beat the Bruins.

Johnny Wooden was still trying to keep down the pressure. At a luncheon he was asked if his current team compared to 1964's. "Well, I'd pick the '64 bunch without much doubt," he said, "because they were the quickest team I've ever seen or ever had." However, he did not slight Alcindor. "If he gets the ball in there, he's going to score. I don't want them to shoot from outside if they can get it in to him—never."

Duke's squad arrived a day earlier than expected. It worked out Wednesday and Thursday in Los Angeles, tried to get accustomed to the time change and toured Disneyland and Universal City. But the area's best tourist attraction was the show Duke was a part of in Pauley Pavilion, just down a gentle slope from several complexes of huge, Hilton Hotel-like dormitories. Inside the arena there were those traditionally cute pompon girls, dressed in lemon-yellow shoes, socks, sweaters and miniskirts and shaking large blue pompons. They had movie-starlet names like Lainie Larkins, Candy Wilson and Linda Lockwood. The Varsity Band belted out Sweet Georgia Brown and Mame. High in two corners of the new arena were banners commemorating the school's two NCAA basketball titles. And more than 12,000 people jammed the place each night, not to mention representatives of newspapers from New York to Redondo Beach, at least three national magazines, two radio stations, one TV network and a partridge in a palm tree.

Duke started right away using a 2-3 zone defense and stayed with it. Two guards played on either side of the top of the key. Center Mike Lewis, a 6-foot-7 junior from Missoula, Mont., who turned down UCLA to go to Duke, and one of the forwards (usually the one on the side away from the ball) stayed as close to Alcindor as his skin, flanking him under the basket with their arms held straight up as if they were being robbed by a gunman. A couple of times when Alcindor got a pass despite his shadows, a third Blue Devil would belly up to him with hands held high so that the New York giant seemed to be looking through prison bars of flesh and bone. Of course, UCLA had four other men who were not bashful about firing away and, once they adjusted to the zone, they murdered Duke.

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