So you thought it was all up with UCLA? That the dynasty was over because Sidney Wicks and the rest of that big, intimidating company he kept had graduated? Well, dream no more. The unbeatable John Wooden is building what might be another superteam. It might, on second thought, be even better than that. It is led by redheaded Bill Walton, 6'11" sophomore center who does everything but help the Bruin pompon girls with their dance routines. Walton scores, he rebounds, he blocks shots, he directs traffic and he starts the fast break faster and better than anybody else in the college game.
It is inevitable that Bill Walton be compared to Lew Alcindor, but that is unfair to both and pointless. Walton is an original, with his own style. He is like Alcindor only in that he always seems to win. Because of him, UCLA followers are beginning to say the Bruins will have a problem: finding room around the increasingly crowded ceiling of Pauley Pavilion for the new national-championship banners the Walton Gang is going to hang there before leaving three years from now.
It is mainly because of Walton's many talents that this UCLA team has landed with almost as much impact as the Alcindor sophomores of five years ago. The Waltons run a devastating fast break, and they work Wooden's famed full-court zone press better than any UCLA team since the Goodrich-Hazzard-Erickson era. But what sets them apart from other UCLA teams is that, unlike some of those unlovable IBM machines of the past few years, the new group exudes so much energy and charm that it might eventually become the most popular Bruin team ever. Even Wooden admits that he is captivated by the new bunch.
"I'm really having fun with this team," Wooden said as he nursed a ginger ale at a cocktail party one night last week. "Why, this team is exciting even when it makes mistakes! And it makes a lot, being so young."
The only starter back from last season's national championship team—Wooden's fifth in a row and his seventh in the last eight years—is Henry Bibby, the quick little guard with the deft shooting touch. So far he has been UCLA's steadying influence, as well as its leading scorer. The sophomores joining Walton in the starting lineup are 6'6" Keith Wilkes, 18, a smooth, willowy forward, and 6'4" Greg Lee, 20, the floor leader who runs the point offense that Wooden dreamed up specially for this team. The fifth starter, 6'5" Larry Farmer, is a junior who spent most of last season on the bench watching Wicks and Curtis Rowe perform.
Before last week the Walton Gang was still pretty much of an unknown quantity, even though it was unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in all the polls and averaging more than 112 points a game. All of its first six games were in friendly Pauley Pavilion, and all were against opponents who probably couldn't hold their own against the pompon girls. Knowledgeable fans were reserving judgment until UCLA met Ohio State in the final of the Bruin Classic.
On paper at least, the Buckeyes seemed worthy challengers. They came to town with a 6-1 record and the No. 6 national ranking. They had a fine outside shooter in Guard Allan Hornyak, who once scored 86 points in a high school game, and they seemed to have an interesting matchup for Walton in 7-foot Luke Witte. To set the stage, Ohio State disposed of Arizona 90-47 in the first round, and the Bruins drubbed Texas 115-65 behind Walton's 28 points and 24 rebounds. The UCLA win at first appeared more costly than it should have been since Lee, the playmaker, suffered a bruised heel and was declared out of the Ohio State game. His absence, however, only proved how strong the Bruins are. With a capacity crowd of 12,820 shrieking its approval, they routed Ohio State 79-53. The game was never close.
"We wanted this one bad," said Walton, and that was obvious from the opening tip-off. Early on, the Buckeyes couldn't stop UCLA's fast break, nor could they seem to get around Walton, who blocked six shots in the first half.
After only four minutes the Bruins led 11-1. When the score got to be 30-10, Ohio Coach Fred Taylor said he felt like "getting up and going to Disneyland." The overmatched Witte threw up a few air balls and did not get much of anything done until Walton, who played only 17 minutes and 56 seconds of the game, took a breather late in the period. And poor Hornyak was not able to get so much as a single field goal past Bibby's tenacious defense.
The second half was gratifying to Wooden because of the way UCLA kept its cool after Walton picked up his fourth foul and was lifted with 18:07 remaining. The Bruins are so deep that their second team probably could win a Big Eight or SEC championship. Wooden has said that Walton's understudy, 6'11" Swen Nater, could be better than Steve Patterson, last year's center, and he rates sophomore Tommy Curtis almost even with Lee. They each made big plays in the second half. After the game Walton was asked if Witte was the best defensive center he had played against.