They arrive in Louisville for the final round of the NCAA this way, as described by Milton in Paradise Lost:
Hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions fierce,
Strive here for mast'ry.
Hot is for Houston, a team decked out in traveling blazers of blazing red, with players named The Savage and The Duck and a coach, Guy Lewis, who wears a lucky jacket himself—the material from England, the tailoring done in Houston and good fortune in its fibers. The three times Lewis has failed to wear the jacket on the road his team has lost. Every time he has worn it the Cougars have won. In Lawrence, Kans. last weekend they beat Kansas on its home floor and then SMU.
Cold is for North Carolina, for the chilly, clear facts of history. The last time the Tar Heels got this far was exactly a decade ago, when they cooled off their hot style and beat a 7-footer named Chamberlain and his favored Kansas team. Last weekend Carolina beat Princeton in overtime, then routed Boston College.
Moist is for Dayton, for Coach Don Donoher, who got thrown in the shower for the first time when his surprise team won the Mideast Regionals, and for the Flyers themselves, who have sweated their way this far with overtime victories over Western Kentucky and Virginia Tech and a one-point win over Tennessee.
Dry is for UCLA, as in, simply, cut-and-dried, which is how the Bruins beat everybody. The most recent victims were Wyoming and Pacific in the Western Regionals.
When fierce champions get together this weekend, figure on dry. Not the mysteries of superstition, not the lessons of the past, not even the wonderful fervor that surrounds the underdog seem likely to affect the probability that UCLA is the most impressive college team of all time. At Corvallis, Ore. last weekend Wyoming was behind 30-6 almost before a breath was drawn. The final score was 109-60. The Bruins used their old favorite, the full-court zone press, to best advantage in this game, causing 19 turnovers by Wyoming. Well ahead, the Bruins moved into a three-one-one zone that gives away corner shots but closes off nearly everything else. Lew Alcindor plays the last "one." Coach John Wooden calls that "a great psychological barrier."
Saturday night, against Pacific—which had put out defending champion Texas Western the night before—the Bruins had one of their stronger tests of the year and still won 80-64. This time they used a man-to-man in the first half, a two-one-two zone in the second. Lucius Allen started the scoring with a free throw and one UCLA fan yelled, "Game's over." It was close enough to the truth to cause even a referee to laugh.
Despite the fact that Pacific's fine center, Keith Swagerty, was playing with an injured ankle and had a wisdom-tooth infection lanced a few hours before game time, Pacific actually outrebounded UCLA 50-35. No one knows how to interpret these figures. Do they constitute a ray of hope? " UCLA can be beaten by a good team on a given night," Coach Dick Edwards of Pacific said. But where is this given night that keeps popping up in rhetoric but nowhere else? In fact, do those rebound figures suggest that there is no hope at all? Because if a team can manage to beat UCLA off the boards by 15 and still lose by 16, what is left? The answer is especially significant for UCLA's opponent this Friday night in Louisville, the hot Houstons.
SMU Coach Doc Hayes, whose team went down valiantly 83-75 to Houston, said afterward: "We faced Bill Russell and San Francisco in 1956 and we faced Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in 1957, but I'm not so sure that this team isn't more powerful than either." The Cougars handled SMU off the boards 52-38, held SMU to 41% from the floor and All-America Elvin Hayes took care of the rest. The Huge E outshone Westley Unseld of Louisville and everybody else in this Regional, scoring 31 against SMU and 19 in the Friday-night win over Kansas. The Houston triumph over Kansas was as unexpected as SMU's last-second win over Louisville.