SI Vault
Joe Jares
March 13, 1967
Every few years a basketball coach decides to play hide-and-seek, and the opposition doesn't seek. Spectators demand refunds, and the cry goes up for a pro-type 24-second clock to compel action
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March 13, 1967

Stallball—a Game To Sleep By

Every few years a basketball coach decides to play hide-and-seek, and the opposition doesn't seek. Spectators demand refunds, and the cry goes up for a pro-type 24-second clock to compel action

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When UCLA and USC compete in anything more explosive than shuffleboard it is usually only tempers that are held (with difficulty). But last month, in a basketball game before 14,417 at the L.A. Sports Arena, it was the ball that was held, while the tethers on tempers snapped.

Undefeated UCLA had a lot going for it in that game. It ranked first in both wire-service polls, and it had the ultimate weapon in Lew Alcindor. All season long its beautiful new Pauley Pavilion had been sold out, but now the unlucky multitudes who had only been able to watch the Bruins on TV could see Lew and his adroit teammates in person against crosstown-rival USC, which already had been beaten twice by UCLA. Everything pointed toward a gala evening, until Trojan Coach Bob Boyd decided his players were not going to be the hors d'oeuvres. They went into a game-long stall, did not shoot for as much as two or three minutes at a stretch, led 17-14 at half time and forced the probable national champions into overtime before losing 40-35.

Many spectators, who had paid up to $3.50 to get their only in-the-flesh look at Big Lew (and saw him stand around looking bored, or occasionally bend down, with legs straight, and touch his palms to the floor), screamed for their money back. Coach Boyd was cursed loudly, and a police escort after the game did not prevent him from being spat upon. The Great Stall Debate, somewhat dormant since the college days of Wilt Chamberlain, was on again.

In the UCLA dressing room Coach John Wooden was asked if he thought other opponents would try stalling. "Yes," he said, "but I don't think most coaches will try it. Too many coaches think too much of basketball to do it." Although Wooden insisted he did not mean it that way, it sounded like a knock on Boyd.

At the following Monday's basketball writers' luncheon, USC Athletic Director Jess Hill followed Wooden to the podium. "There's a certain amount of accusation that he [ Boyd] doesn't think that much of basketball," said the irate Hill. "I've known Bob Boyd for a long time, and he has character, integrity and complete love of basketball.... Bob had my support in everything he did. Any team that attempts to run against UCLA is doomed for devastation. You learn by experience. I don't see much difference in stalling in the last four minutes of the game—all coaches do it—or at the beginning."

Oregon Coach Steve Belko, usually a fast-break exponent, did not want to be devastated, either. When the Bruins came to Eugene two weeks later the Ducks refused to shoot unless they had safe-conduct passes to the basket. UCLA had an 18-14 lead at half time, and Wooden, with his athletic director's permission, decided to fight lack of fire with lack of fire. For the first time that he could remember in 32 seasons of coaching (other than end-of-game situations), he ordered his team into a stall, and the contest became as exciting as a nap in the sun. More than nine minutes went by without a shot fired in anger or any other way. The game finally livened up with about five minutes to go, and UCLA won 34-25. Big Lew scored 12 points, his lowest total of the season.

UCLA has not been the only target of the stall, which goes under such aliases as slowdown, control ball, freeze, letting the air out of the ball, modified slowdown, delay game, conservative style, disciplined offense and, classiest of all, deliberate and selective attack. Disgusted run-and-gunners might add beach-ball, stallball, keepaway or hide-and-seek. Anyway, Princeton, a tall, hot-shooting power in the East, has faced it twice. Early in the season Princeton beat Dartmouth by 74 points, so the Indians stalled in their second encounter, hoping to be within striking distance at the end. They lost by only 14, which was progress of a sort. Last week Penn tried a freeze and was only one point behind, with 1:04 left, when Princeton pulled away and clinched the Ivy League title 25-16. Georgia Coach Ken Rosemond, a frequent staller, benched his second-leading scorer for one game, because the player had told newspapermen that stalling hurt his chances to play pro ball.

The stall is far from a new phenomenon. Back in 1932 USC held the ball for the last 15 minutes of the first half against UCLA as the Bruin band played a funeral dirge, fans threw pennies and peanut shells on the floor and Trojan star Jerry Nemer calmly read a newspaper. The second half was a relatively normal basketball contest, and UCLA won 19-17, which does not say much for shooting abilities in those days. That same year Kansas clogged up a Missouri star's favorite shooting area, so the Tigers retreated to their backcourt and sulked. The two teams casually stood around at either end of the court. Finally four Missouri players sat down and four Kansas players did the same, leaving one Jay-hawk standing watch. " Phog Allen loved the game too much to continue the travesty, and we went after them in the second half," a Kansas player remembered. " Missouri won 26-22." Those two 1932 games were instrumental in getting a rule passed, beginning the next season, that the ball must be brought across the half-court line within 10 seconds.

Even the pros have had stalls. Western Kentucky Coach Johnny Oldham played for the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1951, the year they dillydallied at Minneapolis and beat the mighty Lakers 19-18. "But we had to fight our way to the dressing rooms after that game," he said. "I was the high scorer with five points, and I got taken out of the game by the coach because I tock a 15-footer. Even though I hit the shot, I was told that it was too far.... We played the stall because we maintained that Minneapolis was using an illegal zone defense."

Soon after that, the National Basketball Association ruled that the offensive team must take a shot within 24 seconds or lose possession of the ball, and the league installed easily visible, neon-numeral clocks to tick off the precious time. College coaches who want to put some antifreeze into the NCAA basketball rules are now in favor of a clock, too, although not necessarily for the same time period that the pros use. "We need rules that will prevent inaction more than anything else," said UCLA's Wooden, who indicated he favors a 30-second clock. But he added that any such rule change probably would not be passed while Alcindor is at UCLA. He was no doubt correct. Rules are passed to handicap basketball's giants, not to aid them.

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