For New Mexico State this is the second year in a row it has earned the privilege, if that is the word, of playing UCLA on the first night of the West Regional. Two years ago its first tourney foe was Houston and Elvin Hayes. Yet, the Aggies do not lack for confidence. They beat WAC co-champion Brigham Young on Saturday, and when USC's upset of UCLA was announced one fan said, "Heck, why didn't they wait and let us do it."
Santa Clara must open with Weber State, and the Broncos—looking beyond to UCLA—might be caught by surprise. Weber has good size, quickness and fine shooting from its guards. If Santa Clara is fired up, and it seems the Ogden brothers at forwards and 6'9" Center Dennis Awtrey, one of the least known of the nation's better players, always are, the Broncos should win it. If they do, the rebound battle, Bud and Ralph Ogden and Awtrey versus Alcindor and all his helpers, should be fun to watch, and even more interesting will be seeing how well Santa Clara's guards can harass UCLA's. The two teams met in the regional last year and Santa Clara got run out of the gym at Albuquerque. It ought to be closer this time.
There were more than 70,000 applications for tickets to the Louisville games and now that UCLA has stumbled once and proven itself fallible, the NCAA probably could sell twice that many seats. The fact is that not only at St. John's but at a lot of other places in the country there is a strong belief that this year's edition of the Bruins is not bound in the same rich leather of the older ones, even if Alcindor is a year older and presumably a year stronger and wiser. Before the loss to USC, UCLA already had played two difficult games against Washington, a mediocre team with a fine coach, Tex Winter, who insisted all season the Bruins could be beaten and was finally proved correct.
"Patience is the first requirement," he said before last weekend. "You can't play a definite delay game, but you must work for the high-percentage shot and pass up those tempting perimeter shots John Wooden's teams have always given you. You must force UCLA to play defense as long as possible.
"One good, quick guard is needed to get the ball upcourt and control the tempo of the game. If the Bruins have a weakness this year it is the inability of the guards to apply proper pressure. Defensively, because the Bruins have too many good shooters, I think a pressure defense, man-for-man, all over the court, is the answer. You must press three-quarter court and force the forwards and the big guy out to help get the ball upcourt. Once the Bruins get in their offensive set you must go to a specially concocted defense to help out against Lew. You must gamble somewhere. I say play tight on Lynn Shackelford and John Vallely and give the other forward and guard the outside shot, using your defensive men to sag back on Lew.
"Under no circumstances do you get into a running game with UCLA. I don't think there is a college team in the nation capable of running with them."
Coaches like Dick Garibaldi at Santa Clara, Rupp at Kentucky and Smith at North Carolina no doubt have already reached such conclusions themselves, but they probably figure that their real problem is USC's triumph. The upset may have taken away UCLA's worry of carrying on the winning streak, just as the loss to Houston last year had a pressure-relieving effect on the team before the playoffs.
These Uclans are quite a bit different from the national championship teams of '67 and '68. They shoot better—going into this last weekend sophomores Curtis Rowe (6'6") and Sidney Wicks (6'8") and Alcindor were the leading percentage shooters in the Pacific Eight, and Shackelford and Vallely, letting fly from greater distances, were not far behind—but they guard less now that Mike Warren and Lucius Allen have gone. Still, with their rebounding, speed, depth, the winning streak off their backs, a smart man on the bench and Lew Alcindor, who stands on two awfully long legs under the basket, the Bruins are anything but bearish. They should win.