The UCLA of the East, hopefully, was buried once and for all last week out there on the campus of the real thing. Because Maryland—my Maryland, your Maryland, George Beall's Maryland, Lefty Driesell's Maryland and nobody's UCLA ever again—can now stand up and be counted on its own. Certainly no more phony names and gimmickry for the Terrapins. They earned the right to be saluted on their merits, their talent and especially on the marvelous play of their senior center, Len Elmore (see cover). Saturday night the Terrapins finally dumped the UCLA monkey off their backs and almost beat it to death in the process. Indeed, in their 65-64 loss in the den of the national champions they chilled local partisans to the bone and set the hearts and future hopes of others aflutter everywhere else. In defeat Maryland gained more honor, respect and downright envy than it had in any of its 50 victories over the two years past.
"It ain't got a W after it but I sure am proud," said Driesell, whose feelings were clearly evident as the clock ticked away after Maryland's last chance for victory was ruined by a broken play. When UCLA's Tommy Curtis roared down the floor with the ball and was fouled by Mo Howard at the buzzer, Lefty went to his knees, signaled to the referees that the game was over and then rushed them to make sure Curtis would get no free throws to pad the margin. This was a measure of Driesell's pride. He had just lost the biggest game of his life by one point and he wanted the world to remember it was only by a point.
Earlier, what Maryland had done in astonishing order was fall behind by 9-0 at the beginning of the game, come back to lead 17-15, get its whole team outrebounded by Bill Walton in the first half (he had 20) and fall back again by eight points with 3:37 to play in the game after its usual high scorers, Tom McMillen and John Lucas, had missed 18 of 23 shots between them.
Still, behind by 65-57, the Terps proceeded to outcool, outgut and outhustle the champions down the stretch; to switch to a zone, hold UCLA scoreless the rest of the way and come within one magnificent, superclutch defensive move—courtesy of the Bruins' Dave (Spider) Meyers, didn't ya just know it?—of stopping the UCLA winning streak of 76 games.
The deciding play was set up after Maryland's stellar floor leader, Lucas, first missed a whirling driver over Walton with less than two minutes remaining, only to come right back, steal a wild UCLA pass at midcourt and race in for a layup that made the score 65-64. Now UCLA froze the ball, but with 22 seconds left Howard fouled Richard Washington, even as Bruin Coach John Wooden stood at midcourt and shouted at his players to keep the ball away from Washington.
The tall freshman, who was in the game only because senior Keith Wilkes had fouled out, missed on the one-and-one and Maryland called time. Driesell's plan was to try to get the ball to McMillen down low with Elmore drawing Walton away by moving high off the key, a vantage point from which he had been scoring all evening. Lucas was to control the action and take the shot himself if nobody was open. But as Lucas darted for the baseline with seconds left, UCLA's 6'8" Meyers sprung from behind McMillen, encountered Lucas and knocked the ball away from him as he went up for the shot. Not finished, Meyers saved the ball from going out of bounds, then slapped it—and, in effect, the game—out of danger to Curtis.
"This wasn't any Texas A&Ms or Citadels out there," said the relieved Curtis afterward. "They are awfully tough."
Maryland excelled on defense. The UCLA players attributed their 34% shooting to "too much adrenaline," but Wooden acknowledged that the Terp defense had most of the answers. McMillen and Tom Roy held the shorter Wilkes to four baskets. Lucas stopped Curtis with five. Elmore overplayed Walton on the left side of the lane, prohibiting his favorite turnaround bank shot and forcing him to drive the middle into heavy traffic where he had to go to his hook. He missed 15 of 23 shots. In all, Wilkes, Curtis and Walton missed 40 of 57, easily the worst shooting performances of their careers.
Though Walton finished with 18 points and 27 rebounds, Elmore (with 19 and 14) was all over him in the second half. Maryland outshot the Bruins, outrebounded them and scored two more baskets. They needed three more. "I couldn't get a hot streak," McMillen said. "My hands, I don't know, my hands just didn't get comfortable."
The confrontation never was meant to be comfortable. As anyone down range from the Terrapin publicity tank guns knows, this was the climax of a kind of manufactured antipathy bristling between Maryland and UCLA for some time now. Undoubtedly it stemmed from Driesell's infamous " UCLA of the East" proclamation, made upon taking the head coaching job at Maryland four years ago. Subsequently, it has seemed, Lefty tried the line once every hour or so, but in truth the real culprit was the media, which took the quote and strangled it almost to death, using it to haunt Driesell and mock him.