So you have decided to wrestle with those heavyweight income tax forms tomorrow, you have ordered the combination lock for your refrigerator's meat compartment, you think Fearless Fosdick should be put in charge of eavesdropping. That takes care of the IRS, the USDA and the FBI. Now for the biggest problem since Johnny discovered he couldn't read the alphabet: What to do about UCLA in the NCAA?
What indeed, Bobby Knight and Steve Downing and Quinn Buckner and all you other Hoosiers who long to take it back home to Indiana? And Dr. K and Tubby, what plausible theories can you whisper in your Memphis State drawls that have not been mumbled before? And Ernie D and Bad Marvin. Are you the ones? Can Providence provide where Elvin Hayes and Artis Gilmore and prayer have failed? Or do you all feel as helpless as Superman around Kryptonite, having mashed your way through the regionals only to find the title surrounded by Bruins?
Not really. UCLA has not yet reduced to Jell-O the knees of Indiana and Bobby Knight, he and his regimented troops that baffled Marquette and Kentucky last week with a paramount example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The Walton Gang still must convince nifty Ernie DiGregorio, who many decided was unstoppable after watching his one-on-five games against Pennsylvania and Maryland. And unwithered remains Memphis State, with its high-flying, good-looking lads who rose out of the levee country to erase South Carolina and to bloody Kansas State.
Before the season began, it hardly seemed likely that Indiana or Providence or Memphis State would still be playing basketball this late in the year. But Saturday they will join UCLA in St. Louis for the NCAA title round, three verdant challengers arrayed against the omnipotent, secure and ubiquitous defender, united by a pestering, sobering and dramatic notion: UCLA hunts its seventh straight championship and ninth in 10 years; wonderful UCLA, the team that combines the best of two worlds, coaching and talent.
This is not to say that UCLA is unbeatable. Everybody knows what can happen; that on any given day, etc., etc. And the challengers, only one of whom—Indiana in 1953—has ever made it to the final four, will not play with lilacs in their hands and charity in their hearts. Midwest Regional titlist Memphis State, only recently ushered into the status polls under the aegis of Coach Gene Bartow, may be an obscure interloper to most people living a few city blocks off Beale Street, but the Tigers are mature and secure and, perhaps more important, family. They won 21 of their last 23 games as Bartow skillfully melded old and new names and games. Indiana, which gets first crack at UCLA on Saturday, and Providence already have experienced wins over teams they were not supposed to beat, so that is nothing new, and their crafty coaches have them believing that the team best equipped to withstand pressure will win. That tenet sustained Indiana through the Big Ten season and the Mideast Regional, and Providence in the East.
But it was a fact of last week's regionals that the casualties, reading like the dropout list at the Indianapolis 500, were as noteworthy or maybe more so than those who survived. Long Beach State, Marquette and Southwestern Louisiana, ranked third, fifth and seventh in the national polls, all are back in the pits after first-round accidents and breakdowns while Maryland, which ranked eighth, looked as flimsy as a flivver against Providence.
"All the teams that were supposed to get to St. Louis have been beaten," Wooden announced ominously to his team Thursday night according to Tommy Curtis, the team's Designated Bruin Talker (DBT). It was the coach's antidote for the early stages of infectious complacency, a reasonable expectation since UCLA was playing before a home crowd in Pauley Pavilion, where it has not lost a game since the tops were cut off sneakers. Well, almost. Long Beach, the silent minority's candidate, had just snored to a 77-67 defeat at the hands of San Francisco in the West opener and now UCLA was up against Arizona State, a team that had the audacity to announce that it would run with the Bruins. Run and gun from the land of the sun, and for a while it worked, with the Sun Devils dashing into a 21-16 lead. But the game was over by halftime with the Bruins ahead 51-37. Final score—98-81. Consecutive win No. 72 for the Bruins. So much for running.
That was expected. Long Beach's demise on Thursday night was not, even though many thought the 49ers peaked in late December at Oklahoma City and had been in a decline since. Starter Glenn McDonald injured a foot not long after midseason, and his defense never was replaced. Floor leader Rick Aberegg had not played well for a month. And rumors kept surfacing on the troubled waters that Coach Jerry Tarkanian was packing up his sailboat and would be coaching Nevada-Las Vegas next season. A more tangible problem was star Ed Ratleff. He jammed two fingers on his shooting hand on Monday and missed his first 11 warmup shots before the San Francisco game. Then, in the game, he tore a tendon in his left hand, which left him with no good hands. That wasn't enough to handle San Francisco.
"We have looked awful for a month," said a dismayed Tarkanian. For the last three years he is 1-1-0 with UCLA—one good game, one bad game and now no decision. "Eddie is our only consistent shooter, and when he went bad we had to go inside, and they stopped us there," Tarkanian said. "What a way to go, to get right next to the big one and then stink it up."
San Francisco viewed its game with UCLA Saturday through a rose-colored playbook. Earlier in the year the Dons were embarrassed by a 28-point loss to the Best in the West. This time Coach Bob Gaillard hoped for a different tune, something with a nice beat but a lot slower. "It's ring-a-round-a-rosy," jeered former Laugh-In star Arte Johnson, a UCLA fan, as he watched patient San Francisco stall to a 16-9 lead.