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UCLA took the floor precisely at 4 o'clock and went through a drill devised by Wooden but there was no Prussian-style regimentation. Wooden passed out jelly beans to the writers and asked Patterson, "Steve, you ever have any practice against a 7-footer?" The ex-backup man for Big Lew allowed as how he had.
There were some good omens for Jacksonville. The last time the NCAA finals were held in College Park, a little-known independent, Texas at El Paso, defeated a prestige basketball school, Kentucky. Jacksonville was assigned to the same motel where UTEP once slept, just up the street from the Maryland campus. In the motel lobby Gilmore showed how nervous and anxious he was about the whole event. Some of his teammates were late gathering for the first practice on Wednesday, so he plopped into an armchair and fell asleep.
Although not all the Dolphins were as relaxed as Artis, the UCLA players were even less so. Unable to sleep the night before the championship, Wicks and Rowe went out at 2 a.m. to get sandwich makings and sat up most of the night talking with Henry Bibby, John Vallely and two subs. Then they all slept through most of the morning.
Jacksonville filled its allotted 1,000 seats with folks from Florida wearing "JU can do" badges. It used to be that the Dolphins couldn't even get a thousand people to watch games at home in Swisher Gym. UCLA not only had its cute pompon girls and 1,000 fans but all the rooters from St. Bonaventure, who felt their boys had been rooked by the officials in the game against Jacksonville and who persisted in calling the Dolphins tunas, as in "You're a tuna, Gilmore. You're a stiff."
Wooden waited until just before the game to tell Wicks he was guarding Gilmore, who is so tall that he can stand flat-footed and touch the rim with the ball. "I thought I was going to guard anybody but him," said Sidney. The original strategy was for Wicks to stay at Gilmore's side, like a Siamese twin, while the other Bruins pressured the passers. It didn't work. Artis scored three times from in close (he never scores from anywhere else) and Jacksonville had a quick eight-point lead, 14-6, when UCLA finally woke up enough to call time-out.
Wooden moved Wicks around behind Gilmore and had Patterson and others ease off their own men a little to help out. "If Gilmore did get it inside," said Wooden later, "it would be in close quarters and difficult for him to get the shot. With men all around you with their hands up, it's just not that easy."
The important hands belonged to Wicks, "the most intimidating man in basketball," according to one West Coast coach. Gilmore had replaced Alcindor as the premier shot-blocker in the country, but Wicks, giving away six inches, blocked Artis' shots four times. "I couldn't move him no kinda way," said Sidney, whose famous glare did not have much effect, possibly because it only reached Gilmore's collarbone. "So I tried to make him get the ball six or seven feet from the basket and I'd back off him. Then I had room to jump between him and the hoop."
It's hard to say whether Wicks' defense intimidated Gilmore, but for whatever reason Artis had a horrible shooting night—nine for 29—and was out-rebounded by Sidney 18 to 16.
Playing better defense and keeping their poise, the Bruins fought back to a small lead on clever fast breaks and the shooting of Vallely and Rowe. With a sudden spurt in the last minutes, they left the floor at halftime ahead 41-36, despite 14 turnovers and an excellent defensive job on Bibby by JU's little Vaughn Wedeking.
"We knew the first couple of minutes of the second half would determine the outcome," said Patterson. "They were down by five and could catch us, or we could move out by 10. We moved out. They weren't used to playing behind teams—they don't play the kind of rough schedule we do. I think Gilmore was surprised to see a 6'8" guy go up and block his shot, but I've never seen anybody better than Sidney this year."