According to one pro scout, the next big college center after Alcindor leaves this spring will not be nearly as tall but will be almost as talented. Jerry Krause of the Chicago Bulls thinks he has found the youngster he has been looking for. The player is Willie Sojourner, 6'8", of Weber State. Says Krause, whose coach, Dick Motta, left Weber State only this season, "I've looked all over the country and I haven't seen a sophomore center to match Willie." And what has Sojourner done to deserve such praise? Well, he is averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds a game, is hitting on 49% of his shots and has come up with a cross-lane hook and a power dipper. Sojourner's cross-lane hook is taken while maneuvering across the foul line. His power dipper is a shot that comes at the end of a giant step toward the basket. Sojourner poises the ball on his fingertips and, at the end of his flight through the air, drops it in. With Justus Thigpen adding 17 points a game and with Sessions Harlan in charge of a vise-like defense, the Wildcats are now 8-1 and may well have their finest team ever.
Houston, continuing its spectacular demise, lost for the fifth time as Ken Spain was bottled up by West Texas State's sagging zone. Spain, whose shots stayed mainly out of the basket, scored just two points as the Cougars lost 86-76.
Santa Clara continued to look impressive. The Broncos won the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, holding off Columbia for a 64-58 win. They then beat Oklahoma City 92-82 and won their West Coast Athletic Conference opener from San Francisco 86-66. Doing the scoring for the Broncos was Dennis Awtrey (27 against both the Lions and Chiefs), Ralph Ogden (29 against the Chiefs) and Bud Ogden (12 of 15 shots and 26 points against the Dons).
First place in Portland's Far West classic went to Oregon, which beat Washington State 80-78. A corner shot by Jim Henry in the waning moments made a winner out of the Ducks after Billy Gaskins stole the ball with 10 seconds left. Gaskins, who scored 23 points, was the tournament's MVP. Rick Abrahamson of Oregon, of whom the Cougar scouting report said, "Let him shoot," did just that and sank seven out of eight attempts.
Mike Newlin of Utah, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, returned to play there in the Sports Arena on his birthday against USC. His 32 points led the Redskins to an 80-72 upset win. Utah State surprised Colorado State 83-73 as Marv Roberts put in 31-points. Another high scorer was Nate Archibald, who made good on 12 of 13 shots and had 32 points as UTEP beat Arizona 93-83 and brought its record to 10-3. Arizona sank only 29% of its first-half shots against Seattle, but 56% in the second half and won 75-66. New Mexico State beat Albuquerque 91-81 and Idaho State 85-62 as Sam Lacey had 39 points and 39 rebounds. Butler, spurred on by 5'8" Steve Norris and 5'10" Steve Hardin, defeated New Mexico 81-80 in overtime.
In the first game of the Southwest Conference race SMU, tied for the cellar a year ago, won 81-78 from TCU, last season's champion.