Friday night against Santa Clara, the champion of the West Coast Athletic Conference, the Lobos probably will win without Howard. Santa Clara plays deliberate, set-'em-up ball, trying to feed sophomore Center Dennis (Tree) Awtrey. Tough Forward Bud Ogden plays every game as if he were battling demons. With him around, even if the Broncos lose a game, there's still a good chance they'll win the fight that follows. Santa Clara is a good, young team, but it did not clinch its league title until the last weekend of the regular season and it seems too much to ask for the Broncos to beat New Mexico in the Lobos' own den.
Against UCLA, the Lobos will have the same problems that frustrate every team except Houston—lack of size, skill and experience to counter all that Bruin talent. Even with a Niagara of numbing noise bouncing off the flat ceiling and crashing down to the court just 56 feet below (including the contributions of the 490 standing spectators allowed by the Albuquerque fire department), UCLA should get by.
Houston has an even scarier route to the semifinals. The zigzag trail started last Saturday in Salt Lake City, where the Cougars disposed of independent Loyola of Chicago 94-76. (The Big E scored 49 points and his career in pro basketball seems more promising every day.) The next stop is Wichita, where Friday night they have to face Louisville, winner of the Missouri Valley Conference. This might be the best game in all the regionals.
The Louisville Cardinals, this year nicknamed the Cardiac Cards because of their close games, won their last 12 in a row after a poor start. They have two fine guards, Fred Holden and Butch Beard, and Mike Grosso, a 6'9", 230-pound transfer from South Carolina, is at last eligible and reasonably healthy, although his injured knee must be drained almost daily. But the important man, the guy his teammates refer to as T.P. (Top Player), is Westley Unseld, a star of only slightly less magnitude than Hayes and Alcindor.
Louisville even has a play called T.P.—which is, essentially, to give the ball to Unseld, clear out of his way in a hurry and watch as he either turns and puts in a jump shot or improvises some tricky way to twirl around his opponent and score on a layup. He is a bulky young man (235 pounds and just below 6'7", despite school publicity that describes him as taller), and when he charges to the basket it is as if an ox had suddenly reared up on its hind legs and tried the boogaloo.
The Cardinals have adjusted to new Coach John Dromo and his multiple defenses and pattern offense, but Grosso will have to be ready to help Unseld on the boards if they are to win. Dromo is looking forward to everything but the wardrobe war. "I don't want to have to spend the money that Guy Lewis will on his dress," he said. "He can get the finest sport jackets I ever saw. Outside of competing with him on clothes, the boys and I are happy to be playing Houston. We think we have a great team. I would pay to see Unseld against Hayes."
The Houston- Louisville winner will play the survivor of the Kansas State-Texas Christian game (probably K-State) for the Midwest Regional title. K-State's strength is its zone defense, and neither Houston nor Louisville attacks a zone particularly well. As a Midwestern coach said, "Strange things can happen to a superior team up against a good zone." Still, the Cougars or the Cards should have the patience and the talent to overcome the coaching maneuvers of K-State's Tex Winter, who won the Big Eight this season when he should not have come close.
The best-balanced regional will be in Raleigh where North Carolina, after winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, plays undefeated St. Bonaventure and Columbia plays Davidson. Any one of these teams could make it to the final game in L.A.
The Bonnies did not play nearly as demanding a schedule as North Carolina, but their win over Boston College last weekend in Rhode Island gave them a big boost. Sophomore Center Bob Lanier is strong, fairly quick, graceful and perhaps the best rebounder east of Elvin. He promises to give Carolina's Rusty Clark a bad time.
The key to the game will be how the dexterous Bonnie guards, Jim Satalin and Billy Kalbaugh, handle Carolina's half-court pressure defense, the Tar Heels' most potent weapon. Dick Grubar, who held North Carolina State's Eddie Biedenbach to five points in the ACC title game, will be nose to nose with Kalbaugh, an old high school rival from upstate New York. The St. Bonaventure guards must get the ball inside to Lanier and sharp-shooting Forward Bill Butler, but they have not been pressured all year by a team of Carolina's caliber.