Just before a press luncheon on Friday, Driesell and Wooden stood together in Pauley Pavilion and stared at the ceiling where all the UCLA championship banners hang. Driesell said, "You got nine of those things, coach. I'd give up an arm to have just one." Wooden did not ask which arm.
Later Driesell assured everyone that UCLA basketball was the "eighth wonder of the world" but that Maryland was there to run, to win and to break the streak. "You don't have to worry about us holding the ball and slowing it down," he said. Then he looked out over the crowd and saw Greg Lee and Keith Wilkes laughing. "Aww, come on," said Lefty, "you guys aren't worried anyway."
That afternoon McMillen sat in his motel room across Sunset Boulevard from the Bel Air Sands where UCLA stays on home-game weekends and talked about the "strange atmosphere" and the sense that this was a "climactic moment" in his life. "If I didn't slap myself in the face I'd swear it was March and the NCAA finals," he said. "I wake up from dreams about UCLA."
Among the Bruins across the way, Lee said he felt "exhilaration" by finally being able to play Maryland. "It's a fantastic feeling to get at somebody good and realize you have to play well to win. We remember as freshmen when everyone said McMillen was the best ever. That wasn't his fault, but Bill remembers, too. They are about to find out about each other."
What Walton and McMillen found out was that their skills are vastly dissimilar and that neither was up to the task of playing his best in this ultimate competition. Walton did wind up guarding McMillen some, notably the first two times the Maryland player attempted to go inside to the hoop. On both occasions the redhead put the ball back in the Senator's teeth. Minutes later, when Elmore blocked one of Walton's own shots, the UCLA center congratulated him with "nice goaltend." It was not a violation, just Walton's peculiar way of warning that the battle had been joined.
All of this came during the first 6:18 of the game when Maryland was unable to score a field goal. Walton was blasting away everything the Terps threw up or catching everything they missed. It was a horror show of major proportions that continued throughout the half as Maryland got only two baskets inside and three offensive rebounds.
Walton's inhospitable attitude did not keep Elmore from later admitting his own substantial awe. "They can say what they want about the rest of this outfit and the alumni too. Big Red is the baddest dude anywhere. I blocked him out, used muscle, did my best. He keeps coming. He's so much better than I thought. But we proved that when he has a human night, they're in trouble."
Possibly the Terrapins proved more than that to themselves. On the last heartbreaking play that could have put Maryland in the record books, the mass of his basketball life swept through Len Elmore's mind. He swiped at the loose ball hopelessly, looked up at the clock, then threw his arms down in despair. "All I could think of was next time, next time," he said. "I feel sorry for the rest of the teams that have to play us because we are going to win big and get another shot at these guys."
As Lefty would say, the po-tential is certainly there.