More significant, perhaps, than the upsets was the yo-yo manner in which several of the games were played. With the exception of UCLA's two wins and North Carolina's stunning 96-80 rout of Boston College, there was no game in which a team showed the ability to get ahead and take over. Every time someone opened up a big lead, it was a prelude to collapse. St. John's, for example, led BC 50-41 with 6:18 left and lost in the last minute. Carolina had several six-point advantages over Princeton and lost them all before coming back in overtime. Houston had Kansas beaten by 10 and saw that dwindle to four before winning 66-53. The next night Houston had SMU 62-48, and six minutes later it was 71-71. SMU trailed by eight with 5:47 left against Louisville, then won in the last seconds. Virginia Tech led Dayton 62-52 with 8:14 remaining and finally lost in overtime. It was great for spectators, hell on coaches.
Much of this was inexplicable, too. Louisville shot 56% from the floor against SMU, and 36% from the free-throw line. Boston College shot 29% from the field, but 86% from the free-throw line. The Eagles hit their last 21 in a row to beat St. John's.
Dayton, which plays man-to-man defense about 80% of the time, used a one-two-two zone to beat Tennessee. The switch gave the Vols the baseline, but scouting reports had indicated (correctly) that Tennessee did not drive well. Houston dropped its pressing defenses for only the second time in five years and beat Kansas with a straight zone. The Jayhawks, who have overpowered opponents all year, could not loft the ball over the tall Texans in order to get it inside. Similarly, Boston College, bigger than most of its earlier opponents, simply could not match up against North Carolina and had to move into a zone—without success. The key in that game was Carolina's Bob Lewis, who went through the most startling transformation of the tournament. A high-scoring forward last year, Lewis was shifted to guard and had more playmaking responsibilities this season. Recently he had tried to regain some of his shooting skill, but his whole game and his confidence had deteriorated. He made only seven points in regulation time against Princeton, and while he did get seven more in the overtime—including a three-point play that put Carolina on top for good—it did little to assuage his self-doubts. "This was going to be my livelihood," he moaned. "I'll never make a nickel out of this game if I go on like this." He asked Coach Dean Smith for a special shooting practice Saturday morning. Smith denied permission. "It isn't your shooting, Bob," said Smith. "Now it's all in your head."
The head cleared just in time. Carolina was down 12-3 to BC when Lewis made two foul shots, then broke away for a basket. The Tar Heels were off with him. Moving underneath when a little guard was on him and outside with a bigger man, Lewis hit 11 of 18 shots for 31 points, and had six assists besides. With Lewis' All-America partner, Larry Miller, adding 22, Carolina showed the form necessary to take it past Dayton to the finals. In the game with Dayton Lewis, 6'3", probably will be guarded by Bob Hooper, who is only 6 feet but held Virginia Tech's 6'2" Glen Combs to 16 points after Combs had thrown in 29 against Indiana. Moreover, Combs made five of his seven baskets against Dayton in a short stretch when Hooper and the Flyers were playing more of a slough-off defense. Miller will be guarded by Dan Sadlier, one of Dayton's two sophomore starters.
Carolina did a fine job of stopping BC's high-scoring forward, Steve Adelman. The Tar Heels played him close, preferring to let him drive, and he had only four for 12 from the floor. But Dayton's marvelous Don May, a 6'4", 218-pound left-hander, presents a more complex problem. Like Lewis, May suddenly came alive Saturday night. After a desultory two-for-10 shooting performance against Tennessee, he made 28 points against Tech, and the Flyers played to him repeatedly during their comeback. Tar Heel sophomores Bill Bunting and Joe Brown, who handled Adelman most of the time, probably will split the assignment on May.
Carolina sophomore Rusty Clark will give Miller more help on the boards than May gets. Clark pulled down 18 rebounds against BC—most of them, it seemed, after he and Adelman got riled up and traded a couple of good solid blows. That stirred Rusty. Ironically, a continent away, Alcindor was struggling to contain himself against the tough Pacific frontline. "They're big," he said. "When it got muscular in there, I tried to keep my temper. It's happened before, but there's not much you can do about it." This appears to be a rather wistful complaint from anyone who is so personally involved with the rough business of rebounding. Certainly it will be just as muscular underneath against Houston. The Cougars have Hayes, 6'8", Don Kruse, 6'8", and Melvin Bell, 6'7", up front.
Coach Lewis figures he must depend on his strength, and vows that there will be no tricky stuff. "We'll play them honest," he says. The success of the Houston zone against Kansas may encourage Lewis to trot it out against UCLA. The Bruins can set up in any defense, without too much concern about Houston's weak outside shooting.
UCLA will also be in better shape this weekend than last, when the players were devoting much of their time and thought to exams. Alcindor missed one practice, as did several others, and some of the Bruins even had to take exams after flying to Corvallis on Thursday. The tests, sealed, were shipped to Oregon, along with proctors to oversee them.
While the Houston- UCLA match is liable to be freewheeling and high scoring, a UCLA final with Carolina could be a fascinating battle of wits. Dean Smith would surely come up with a surprise—possibly a variation of his four-corner game, which spreads four men out and leaves either Miller or Lewis in the middle, looking for a one-on-one break. This offense is often used to stall if the Tar Heels are ahead, but it does not necessarily dictate a stalling game. What it does, in effect, is force the defense to contest the issue.
Carolina also offers a collection of talismans, superstitions and burnt offerings that make Coach Lewis' lucky coat seem pale by comparison. Assistant Coach Larry Brown has a 10-0 game record while wearing a white tie. His wife, all alone at home, puts on a special maternity dress to watch the game on television. Miller used to wear a St. Christopher's medal given to him by his mother. It was torn off in the Duke game two weeks ago, and a strange woman suddenly appeared at a Carolina pep rally with a new one for him. In the meantime he had retrieved the one he had lost. So now he wears two St. Christopher's medals. They clang about his neck, fair warning to evil spirits.