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Unless Bill Walton quits school in the next few minutes to merge with the NBA; unless he falls in love or runs over a dog or his face breaks out or he is hijacked to Uruguay, UCLA should win the national championship again. That would make six consecutive NCAA titles for the Bruins, eight in the last nine years—and then Senator Sam Ervin could begin antitrust hearings on the real monopoly in basketball.
Strange and long ago as it may seem, when the ball began bouncing on campus way back there in October, this was to be the New Look season for the college game. Gone were the awesome UCLA frontline pickets responsible for the last two championship teams. Gone, even longer, were the Alcindor times and, however anonymous, the bit players who won their small fame only because they were there when Lew was. Hanging around. Waiting to play. Saying "Wha's happenin'?"
Elsewhere Tom McMillen was to be the new star in the East, and Jim Chones was gathering support in the Midwest. Maryland would be No. 1. No, Marquette would be. Didn't matter. All the chickens were coming home to roost. Somebody was going to get UCLA this time.
Then, of a sudden, from behind what now seems like a marvelously contrived scheme of un-publicity, this quaint-looking, red-haired and freckled fellow came bursting onto the scene. Only a sophomore, Bill Walton ran and jumped and passed and shot and rebounded and blocked shots and wagged his red head and waved his bony arms and wore cute little ice cups on his knees and was so downright ebullient, opponents couldn't believe he did the whoooole thing.
In the wake of Walton's brilliant skills, other players were forgotten. Not to mention teams. And as the NCAA tournament got under way last weekend a man searching for pretenders to the UCLA dynasty could inquire only who? And answer only boohoo.
The Bruins literally tore up the schedule on the way to their 26-0 record this winter. They are one of the few groups ever to be ranked in the Top Ten in both team offense and defense. UCLA averaged 96.1 points a game (third highest in the land) and gave up 63.8 (seventh lowest). This average spread of a cool 32 points is an NCAA record by a mile, and Coach John Wooden says his team's rebounding edge (almost 19 a game more than the opponents) is the best in his school's history. For all of this, the UCLA season has not been as close as the scores would indicate.
Most of the time Walton, Guards Henry Bibby and Greg Lee, Forwards Keith Wilkes and Larry Farmer have left games early, chuckling at the havoc they have wreaked. Walton's statistics (22 points, 15 rebounds) hardly tell of his value.
Loyola's quick, acrobatic LaRue Martin was the only center to play Walton even all year—and that was merely on the scoresheet. Martin led Walton in points, 19 to 18, and in rebounds, 18 to 16. UCLA won the game by 28 points.
In Chicago, as all up and down the West Coast, UCLA hurt people in different ways. Lee, directing the flow and feeding from backcourt. Bibby, firing from afar and quick-handed on the press. Farmer and Wilkes, hauling in the garbage and releasing for fast breaks. Swen Nater, Larry Hollyfield and Tommy Curtis coming off the bench, as if they were needed for something.
Still, it was Walton who made everything go. "His presence is worth 40 points," says the Lakers' Keith Erickson. "You play him with a box and one," says Washington State's Bob Greenwood. "Four guys on Walton and one on the rest."