First the bad news from St. Louis. UCLA won the national championship again, surviving the threat of a trio of slick, quick and nicknamed dudes from Memphis State who did everything but tear down the Gateway Arch trying to please their riverboat townful of screaming Dixiecrats.
Now the really bad news. Bill Walton is staying in school.
Even before Walton had huffed and puffed and blown apart the NCAA record book in UCLA's 87-66 victory Monday night; before he had made 21 of 22 shots, scored 44 points, handled 13 rebounds and sashayed away somewhere high above the lights in the arena; before, indeed, he had proven once again that he is one of the most remarkable athletes of the age, Walton contemplated his future and figured it was now.
"I am not playing pro basketball next year," Walton said. "I have decided there is plenty of time left to earn a living, but now is my time to be a young man. I don't want to worry about the other things. All the attention and the publicity and financial bonanzas are not for me or my life."
Walton, who said he was making a "non-decision," will remain at UCLA through his graduation in the spring of 1974. "I don't need any reasons for coming back," he said. "I'm here and that's it. Money has never been a factor—I wish people would understand that.
"I dig change for the better, but I'm not changing now. My six months as a basketball player are over. Now I get six to be a human. I want to get away and bring some reality into my life."
The reality of Walton as the supreme player struck Memphis State's Larry (Dr. K) Kenon, Ronnie (Big Cat) Robinson and Larry (Little Tubby) Finch very early in the final game when he totally dominated the inside play. Still, after UCLA built a 33-24 lead in the first half, the Doctor kept coming at him. Coach Gene Bartow's team went into a zone and Walton got into foul trouble. The Tigers came growling back to tie the score at 39-all at the half and even took a lead just after intermission. But Walton, despite three fouls—and eventually a fourth—kept on truckin'. Scoring a multitude of points on lob passes from Greg Lee ("Our eyes meet and I wail it up there," said Lee), Walton also terrorized the defensive boards. Relentlessly he carried the champions from a 45-45 tie to a 57-47 lead with 12 minutes left, and Memphis was done.
Walton also was done when he limped to the bench on a hurt ankle with three minutes to go and the lead at 15 points. Memphis' Billy Buford helped him off. Finch, who performed splendidly himself, embraced him, and a once hostile crowd roared in appreciation.
Despite Finch and Kenon and the screaming masses that howled for an upset, what the whole thing turned out to be was only another replay of the past decade in which the Bruins had won nine championships. This was their seventh in a row and, as Pan American's Coach-elect Abe Lemons put it, "Just another UCLA bullfight. You gore the matador all night. In the end he sticks it in you and the donkeys come on and drag you out."
Long before the championship game, Memphis State had made a different kind of impact on the tournament by virtue of some extraordinary work by the team's publicist, Bill Grogan. An industrious, gnomelike creature whose zeal for a hot item is never inhibited by reality, Grogan operated all week as if the Final Four consisted of Russia, China, Wounded Knee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.