The Bruin players mirrored their coach's proud demeanor in defeat. He told them: "Winners do the talking. Losers keep quiet." Following his advice, they accepted the loss calmly, without rancor, unsalted by tears. "They played a good game, they won, that's all we can say," whispered Keith Wilkes.
But for Notre Dame the flush of victory was exhilarating. There is little harmony between the two teams. Both are vain, and defeat does not dwell comfortably. During Phelps' first season at Notre Dame, UCLA beat the Irish by 58 points. Last year Wooden admonished Shumate for jostling with Walton and implied reprisal. Later Wooden sent a letter of apology. During Saturday's game there were frequent little incidents that could have flared into serious trouble.
"If I had Tommy Curtis here I'd stuff him in that locker," Clay snorted afterward, peeved at the UCLA guard for mocking him during much of the game. "He was talking that street talk. I told him to shut up or I'd punch him in the mouth. All that bad-mouthing, that's for the playgrounds. It's worked for 88 games, it's not going to work anymore."
Earlier in the week, the opposing players had exchanged similar pleasantries in the press. UCLA starting guard Pete Trgovich, who grew up in East Chicago, Ind., just a few football fields away from South Bend, said, "I despise Notre Dame. I stopped liking it when Johnny Dee left. I don't like Digger Phelps." Countered Clay: "If they gave a foul for bad language, Walton would be out of the game in two minutes, especially if he blocks your shot."
The game even exceeded its promise. For weeks it had simmered as UCLA and Notre Dame marched on unbeaten. The teams presented contrasts that went beyond Los Angeles and South Bend, beyond their coaches and players and pedigrees. It was the Establishment against the nouveau riche, West vs. East, a master coach against an aspiring heir.
Phelps would have none of Wooden's blas� pregame attitude. He even bought a book about Wooden, read it and passed out excerpts to his staff. "I want to understand the man," he said. Phelps showed up at the Bruins' game with Iowa in Chicago Stadium on Thursday night, huddling conspicuously with his assistants, immersed in machinations, poring over diagrams of Bruin strategy.
Wooden cloaked his feelings in his usual restraint. "I haven't seen Notre Dame play," he said. "I did talk to a friend about them, not a basketball man, just a friend."
"We heard they were scouting us against Kentucky," replied Phelps.
Earlier the UCLA coach had been less than specific over whether Walton would even make the trip east. Not until Walton showed up with the UCLA team in Chicago on Wednesday and went through a private workout (he never did see action against Iowa) was it certain he would play against Notre Dame.
"I'm really surprised," said Phelps dryly when he heard the news.