SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
March 19, 1973
The season's survivors continue their battle into the NCAA regionals. By Saturday just four will be left, and only the surprise of the decade will keep one of them from being irrepressible UCLA
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March 19, 1973

Down To The Sweet Sixteen

The season's survivors continue their battle into the NCAA regionals. By Saturday just four will be left, and only the surprise of the decade will keep one of them from being irrepressible UCLA

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Coach Ned Wulk's Sun Devils came out of nowhere this season, using "The Flying Chicano," Mike Contreras, along with eight other men to win their league on the final day. They may be the most physical team in WAC history and, against UCLA, they will have history on their side: Arizona State was the last team to defeat the Bruins in championship play. That was in 1963.

Contreras and Jim Owens compose a good backcourt, but the Sun Devils will need 6'11", 260-pound Ron Kennedy playing well above his head and bulk to stay in the game with UCLA. "The Bruins can do a few more things than Oklahoma City," Wulk winks, "and Walton is a comer."

Bill Walton will especially come to play if, as expected, Long Beach gets past San Francisco to qualify for another renewal of that long-running series, The Armenian Meets The Wizard. Coach Jerry Tarkanian's 49ers are not a cinch. If they are sluggish and looking ahead, as they were against Weber State, they will be defeated by an excellent Don team that has rugged shooters in Kevin Restani and Phil Smith as well as size, poise and a notable lack of fear. But Ed Ratleff (sometimes referred to as Ed Ret-Laff by NBC announcers) should prevail and get his team to UCLA on individual talent alone.

In the past two West Regionals the sideline by-play between UCLA and Long Beach has been as nasty as any bitter rivals could want. It erupted in 1971 when a UCLA administrator sat at courtside and badgered the referees while being hassled himself by a Long Beach radio announcer. Last year during their rough, spitfire contest, Wooden had words with two Long Beach players and called the 49ers' play "disgraceful and unethical," after which Ratleff claimed UCLA was "protected" by the officials.

This week Tarkanian is already upset about his ticket allotment in Pauley, where UCLA closed public sale and reserved most of the seats for its own fans. That is SOP for a host team, of course, but the Long Beach coach also says that, to be fair, the NCAA West Regional should be held in Houston anyway. Right on, Armenian.

As for Ratleff, this is his Last Tango in Pauley and he aches to bring off his winterlong prediction that the 49ers will beat UCLA. Two years ago, employing its vaunted 2-3 zone, Long Beach had the game won until Ratleff fouled out. Last year no defenses worked and the 49ers were never in it.

Tarkanian believes the Bruins' outside shooting is vulnerable and that a zone still is the way to stop them, but his own defense has been ineffective with little Rick Aberegg in the lineup, and that is Tark's quandary: Aberegg is too valuable offensively to be replaced.

" UCLA is making a mistake showing its games on delayed TV," said Long Beach's 6'11" Center Nate Stephens recently. "I go home and figure out ways to stop Walton. He can be stopped." Stephens made his observation just after he had held San Diego State's 6'7" John Anderson, a starter who was averaging fewer than 10 points, to 18. So much for Long Beach logic.

However, if the twin power boys, Leonard Gray and Roscoe Pondexter—who is the best sixth man in college—play to their strength...If Aberegg, a flaky sort, can maintain composure...If Stephens can stay awake and help keep Walton off the boards...If the 49ers can shoot well, keep close, hold their poise and let Ratleff take over the game, it is possible they will win.

Southwestern Louisiana, its suit vs. the NCAA now in the law courts, should get out of the Midwest without too much trouble. Of course, trouble has been the school's middle name since January when it was charged with 125 violations and afflicted with a neat case of galloping paranoia. Just after that USL was humbled by 42 points at Jacksonville and the season looked gone. But two days later, trailing Cincinnati by 19 points at halftime and on the verge of quitting, something stirred inside the Cajuns and right then they turned the season around. USL won that game and the team has played with determination and a new sense of purpose ever since.

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