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The moon hung over Louisville, full gold, and at its perigee as round and bright and near as it ever is. It lay in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin, which was appropriate, since UCLA—only a little closer to earthbound rivals—ended an immaculate 30-0 season with a 79-64 rout of Dayton for the national collegiate basketball championship. So awesome were Lew Alcindor and his teammates and so obvious is it that they are destined for two more titles that the old moon there over Louisville will doubtless suffer the indignity of conquest by mortal man before the Bruins do.
UCLA should lose a game sometime in December 1969, but the possibility of a freak loss before then will continue to nurture hope on campuses and at coaching clinics around the country. After all, only a few people have quit taking baths just because the accident rate is so high around tubs. Despite the odds, one perseveres, in basketball as in hygiene. Practically speaking, however, with regard to the national championship, the next two years offer no more chance for a different outcome than there would have been if the Romans had been asked to repeat the Rape of the Sabines annually.
The UCLA victories over Houston and Dayton were so convincing that the only real question remaining is how much better Alcindor and his mates can become. Next season two potential All-Americas, Mike Lynn and Edgar Lacey, are expected to rejoin the team, and a 6'8" freshman named Steve Patterson moves up. And ain't nobody leaving.
Still, no matter how good so many of the Bruins are and how well they are coached by John Wooden, their game is Lew Alcindor. As a sophomore, he dominates the college sport much more than Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain do the pros—if only because collegians do not often encounter such a phenomenon. Of course, they learn fast enough. It did not take Houston long last Friday night to abandon its plan of attacking Alcindor (opposite) and to move Elvin Hayes farther out for his shots. Against Dayton, Lew was credited with only four blocked shots, but they all came early. Some observers, watching Alcindor for the first time, evinced disappointment at this performance—only four blocked shots, indeed! Presumably they would also have been disenchanted with Aaron Burr for employing only one bullet to make a telling point with Alexander Hamilton. Lew has no more interest in overkill than Bertrand Russell does.
It is doubtful that Alcindor was ever tested fully all season, but the languid, almost bored attitude that he appears to affect on court is misleading. His teammates suggest that this is, simply, his style, and that he is not only alert and ready to assume command when necessary, but that he is feigning indifference to lure the opposition to him. He is not only a smart player but utterly selfless. "We play team," he says, succinctly. "We don't play one man. You lose playing one man." It is significant that when the huge Houston front line was collapsing all over him, when he was also supposed to be in a grudge duel with Hayes, that he still refused to accept such a meaningless challenge. Again and again, holding the ball high, poised, turning, looking, thinking, he would make the right play—shoot or pass to the open man.
Alcindor's influence is so pervasive that it is difficult to determine how good his teammates really are. For instance, Forward Lynn Shackelford made 16 baskets in 29 attempts in the two games, most of them on beautiful, long left-handed jumps. A great shooter? Who knows? Shackelford rarely has to shoot with a hand in his face. True, his shooting took some pressure off Lew inside, but the man guarding Shackelford was always halfway back, preparing to help out against Alcindor.
The other UCLA forward, Kenny Heitz, was assigned to Dayton's Don May. The night before, against favored North Carolina, May had been marvelous. He made 13 straight shots, 34 points and had 15 rebounds. Against Heitz, he missed his first half a dozen shots and was only three for 12 in the first half, when the issue was settled. Heitz said frankly, "May is just a terrific player. So strong—and, more than that, he knows how to use his strength. I know that he was trying to get inside on me, but I could tell all along that he wouldn't take me in as far as he would normally like to because Lew would be there."
Outside, Mike Warren and Lucius Allen gave all appearances of being the best backcourt in the land. They whipped the ball around and popped in the shots, and Allen particularly moved down the middle without the ball for the easy pass and layup. But all this, too, they were able to accomplish without the close defense that other good guards must face.
This is not to propose that Warren, Allen, Shackelford and Heitz are overrated. On the contrary, they may well be better than advertised. It simply indicates that it is impossible to tell how good they are.
At any rate, the excellence of the UCLA, team was perhaps best shown in the early minutes of the Houston match. The Cougars must be the most massive team in the country. Coach Guy Lewis used nine men, all of them well fed; six are at least 6'6" and Don Chaney is a hefty 6'5" guard. With this arsenal of muscle, the Cougars attempted to go strength to strength—right at Alcindor. It was no personal crusade by Hayes, as some observers thought. "No," Lewis said. "All week we just said: 'go to him.' All week that was it." Before the game Johnny Dee of Notre Dame, whose team played both Houston and UCLA, guessed the Houston strategy. "They've got to try to foul Alcindor out," Dee said. "The only way to beat him is to hope for the three Fs—Foreign Court, Friendly Officials and Foul Out Alcindor." It was a good idea, but Alcindor had the fourth F—Forget It. Houston got Alcindor to foul—once, after 33 minutes. Although Lew blocked several Hayes shots and spooked him and his teammates into missing other easy ones, Houston had a 19-18 lead midway through the first half. Overall, the Cougars were playing very well. They were holding the boards, they had given Alcindor only one basket and their floor game was sharp. Using their height, they stuck to crisp overhead passes to chop up the UCLA full-court press, which is, really, only a shadow of its old self. Meanwhile, the Bruins had been hardly impressive. And yet, despite ail this, Houston was only one point ahead. Then Shackelford, unmolested, hit a corner jump, the Bruins stole the ball off the press for the first time that night, Alcindor stuffed in a basket a few seconds later—and quickly it was 29-19. UCLA won by a score of 73-58, for what that matters.