When UCLA's John Wooden checks the guest list for that little party he is throwing out in Los Angeles this week, he will notice that many of his anticipated visitors had to send their regrets. South Carolina and Penn called in sick from Morgantown, W. Va., where they came down with a bad case of the Carolina blues. Marquette's bandwagon got a fiat tire in Dayton, so the Warriors will be replaced by some cool dudes who will be lucky to get in and out of Hollywood without someone rating them X. And Southwestern Louisiana, which came to Ames, Iowa singing " Dwight Lamar, superstar, show them you are what you say you are," had such a crummy time that it turned around and disappeared into the Bayou country from which it sprang.
They all will be missed in Los Angeles, but the party will go on, make no mistake about that. Chain-smoking Dean Smith will be there to wow everyone with his North Carolina Tar Heels, the strongest team to come out of the East in years. So will cocky young Denny Crum, Wooden's erstwhile understudy, who comes back home with a veteran Louisville team that the master himself would be proud to call his own. And so will what's-its-name, the gatecrasher. Who, in fact, invited the Florida State Seminoles, those jumping jacks with the wide Afros and hungry looks?
Like one of the instant hurricanes that pop up every so often off the Florida coast, the Seminoles whirled through last week's Mideast Regional and into the NCAA tournament's title round before anybody knew they were there. They are the most unlikely guests at Wooden's party, where the Bruins are expected to present their 61-year-old coach with his sixth straight championship and eighth in the last nine years. One reason is that the Seminoles are fresh out of the NCAA's jailhouse, having just done a three-year stretch for various recruiting violations. Another is that they simply are not buying this stuff about UCLA having a lock on the title, that everyone is just flying out to the Coast to soak up some sun and gee whiz at the antics of Bill Walton & Co. "They're overlooking us," says Florida State playmaker Otto Petty, who at 5'7" is easy to overlook, "but we're going to show everybody."
Such enthusiasm is SOP when a team gets as far as the NCAA semifinals, and it is especially charming in a man of Petty's size, but even he would admit after last week's regionals that the tournament shapes up more than ever as another Wooden bash. Playing in the West Regional in Provo, Utah, the Bruins turned in a couple of typically overwhelming performances, destroying little Weber State 90-58 on Thursday night, then ripping highly regarded Long Beach State 73-57 Saturday afternoon.
For Jerry Tarkanian, the Long Beach coach, the pressure began building early. The UCLA band, by some freaky twist of fate, was quartered right below the 49ers at the Holiday Inn in Provo. Some Long Beach sympathizers claimed the band practiced all night, and Tarkanian confirmed that its rehearsing awoke him at 8:30 a.m. "I don't care," he said, "I'm not playing the band." Soon afterward Tarkanian had his team out in the motel parking lot working on its strategy for UCLA. "This is our chance," he said. "I wish I had more time to prepare."
Before the opening tip Walton and Long Beach's Ed Ratleff, possibly the best two players in the country, stood at midcourt, laughing and talking and clasping hands, wrists and arms. It was a fine display of fellowship and sportsmanship, something that disappeared almost as soon as the officials blew their whistles and tossed the ball up. The game, one of the roughest of the season, featured a lot of clandestine punching and shoving under the boards. Throughout, Wooden was off the bench, yelling at the officials and even going so far as to say one Long Beach player should be ashamed of himself. On the other side, Long Beach's Leonard Gray said that Walton was "the biggest crybaby in the world," and Ratleff charged that the Bruins "get away with so much on defense it's ridiculous."
The Bruins won the game in typical coldblooded fashion. With Walton intimidating inside and Henry Bibby popping away from the perimeter of Long Beach's zone, the Bruins pulled into a 17-10 lead. Next their press forced a couple of quick turnovers, and suddenly it was 24-12. By then Walton, for one, knew the Bruins had the game under control. In a huddle he grabbed Wooden's arm and said, "Hey, hey, easy, easy," then told his teammates, "Get it to me over their heads. I've got it beat."
And so he did. The Bruins never stopped pressing, and Bibby, who had 23 points for the game, never stopped hitting from outside.
The Bruins' opponent in this week's semifinal, Louisville, is a sort of UCLA of the Midwest, as Lefty Driesell might put it. Coached by Crum, who played for Wooden, assisted under him for three years and recruited Walton and almost all the rest of the current team, the Cardinals use UCLA's high-post offense and have tried their pressure defense.
Louisville won its trip to Los Angeles by defeating Kansas State 72-65 in the final of the Midwest Regional at Ames, but that game was anticlimactic. Everyone knew that dull ol' Kansas State, the Big Eight champ, simply was too big and ploddy to keep up with Jim Price, a Walt Frazier sort of guard, and Ron Thomas, one of the best 6'6" re-bounders in the country. In reality the Cards won their place among the final four on Thursday night, when they came from behind to shoot down Dwight Lamar, the major colleges' leading scorer, and his fellow Ragin' Cajuns from Southwestern Louisiana, 88-84.