The Bruins have won the NCAA eight times in nine years. Had freshmen been eligible in 1966 it could have been a sweep.
Unranked in preseason polls, this team led by 6'2" Walt Hazzard still is Coach John Wooden's favorite among all UCLA titlists. It was also his smallest championship team—no starter was taller than 6'5"—but it compensated for its deficiencies with a merciless full-court zone press that shattered opponents. The Bruins were 29-0 when, in the finals, they met Duke with its two 6'10" pivotmen and two future NBA All-Stars, Jeff Mullins and Jack Marin. UCLA harassed the Blue Devils into 29 errors and won with a record score, 98-83. A dynasty had begun.
The power of the press became Subject A in off-season clinics as coaches debated methods of coping with UCLA's swarming defense. The answer seemed immediately at hand when the team was upset 110-83 by Illinois in the season opener. That was only wishful thinking. Wooden decided to let Gail Goodrich, a shooter, run the offense. The Bruins lost just once more before meeting No. 1 Michigan in the NCAA final. Goodrich's thrusts fouled out the entire Wolverine front line. He scored 42 points in a 91-80 victory and UCLA had its second title in a row.
At its freshman-varsity game, UCLA got some good news along with the bad. The Brubabes thrashed the varsity, presaging a year in which UCLA would not win a third straight NCAA championship. But the star of the game was 7'1 3/8" freshman Lew Alcindor, who scored 31 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and would soon begin his own three-year era. Had freshmen been allowed to play then, it might have been four. As Don Haskins, coach of champion Texas Western, said, "This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing." It was, at least, a once-in-a-decade thing.
Alcindor set a difficult precedent for himself by ramming home 56 points in his debut against USC. Scattered about the postgame debris were some dozen single-game records. But he later followed that with 61 points. Despairing coaches were beginning to say that the last two initials in UCLA stood for Lew Alcindor. The Bruins went over 99 points 12 times and to stop this assault rivals turned to a non-offense, the stall. It did no good. UCLA won each of its last 10 games by at least 15 points, including the NCAA title game against Dayton, 79-64.
College basketball was reduced to two last defenses against Big Lew. One was the NCAA rules committee, which took his dunk shot away; the other was Elvin Hayes of Houston, who said, "Alcindor's not at all what they put him up to be." Prophetic words, it seemed, when the Cougars snapped UCLA's 47-game win streak 71-69 before 52,693 in the Astrodome. But Alcindor was playing with double vision caused earlier by a finger in his left eye. When the two met in the NCAA semifinals, UCLA routed Houston 101-69. The North Carolina final was anticlimactic.
UCLA and Alcindor played out their unprecedented string of three titles in a row with the detached air of those whose success has been preordained. Lynn Shackelford tossed in the free throws that nailed down an 85-82 thriller over Drake in the semifinals, one of the Bruins' few interesting victories, and said: 'A lot of it has been boring. Everybody said we would win three. That has taken a lot out of the accomplishment." Alcindor made 15 of 20 shots against overmatched Purdue in the finals and stood on a chair to cut down the nets after the 92-72 trouncing.
Wooden hated to lose the man he would soon call Lewis Kareem, but he looked forward to coaching to win rather than not to lose. South Carolina was the preseason favorite to break UCLA's latest streak, but the pickers had overlooked Steve Patterson, a mechanical 6'9" center who had been redshirted for the day when Alcindor was no longer around, and two multitalented forwards, Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe. For a change, in the NCAA finals Jacksonville had the 7-footers but the Bruins dominated Artis Gilmore and UCLA won easily 80-69.
The team Wooden calls his "most confident" lost only once—when Notre Dame's Austin Carr drove through it for 46 points—but came close half a dozen other times. With reports of racial friction on the squad and Henry Bibby"s shooting far off, winning became more difficult than it had been in five years. Patterson's 29 points just did stave off Villanova 68-62 in the NCAA final. When the clock had almost run out, Wicks told Wooden on the bench, "Coach, it's been a great career." Bounding back to play, he added, "You're really something."
Straight off the Walton Gang looked like another of those three-year UCLA afflictions. It began with seven 100-point games and finished with 30 victories. Comparisons between Center Bill Walton and Alcindor were inevitable. Alcindor's intimidated opponents shot .383, Walton's .382, and each had 466 rebounds as a sophomore. Louisville's Denny Crum, a former UCLA assistant, was back in Los Angeles to see the Bruins beat his Cardinals and Florida State in the NCAA finals. He called this the best UCLA team he had seen. The beat goes on.