It ended the way Hollywood would have written it, drama and symbolism holding hands with ghostly legend at Notre Dame, the denouement arriving on an arching shot from the corner. It was an attempt born of chance and cloaked in destiny, and the UCLA miracle ceased. The winning streak was over.
In the shadow of The Stadium and The Gipper and The Golden Dome, on a leaden Saturday in South Bend, Dwight Clay stared opportunity in the face and never shivered. His jump shot with 29 seconds remaining wiped clean UCLA's 88-game winning streak and once again cast Notre Dame as the bad seed in the Bruins' victory garden.
Clay was not out of costume in the 71-70 victory. Although he has the poorest shooting percentage among the Notre Dame regulars, it was the fourth time that the junior guard has helped win games with blithe final-second shots, and the second time that he has broken a streak. He fired in a basket against Marquette last year that ended the Warriors' home-floor successes at 81 straight and earned him a nickname: "Iceman."
In those frantic closing seconds against UCLA, Clay did not figure in the Irish plan. Notre Dame had scheduled a play designed to get the ball to John Shumate, its extraordinary center who had been battering away inside against the Bruins' weary Bill Walton throughout the second half. It was Walton's first game since suffering a back injury 12 days earlier and his teammates were more than ready to give him some help. They surrounded Shumate, and Gary Brokaw spotted Clay in the corner. A few seconds later, the Iceman cameth. "He's the best clutch shooter in the country," yelled Brokaw over the victory din in the Irish locker room. "The man has proved it. When he has to do it, he does it."
"I wanted the ball," said Clay. "I was open and I was waiting."
That summed up the mood of the Irish. They were ready and waiting for UCLA. This time they did not get 46 points from Austin Carr, as they had on Jan. 23, 1971, the last occasion anyone had beaten UCLA, but the tableau unfolded with just as much incongruity. Except for four very early ties, UCLA had led the entire game, adopting for the most part the posture of a man playing with a toy. But then the unpredictable currents of emotion switched and the Bruins were swept away on a tide of panic as their elegant play turned crude.
During the last three minutes they were outscored 12-0, sabotaged by four puerile turnovers and, while the Irish were sinking six straight shots, they were fluffing six in a row. In the final moments their frantic attempts approached burlesque as they stuttered over a series of open shots. "They threw the ball away, they ran into their own men. I guess the crowd shook them up," said ND's freshman starter, Adrian Dantley.
UCLA's John Wooden, once a high school coach in South Bend, offered no excuses, claimed indifference to the expiration of the win streak and cited this Saturday's rematch in Los Angeles as a better barometer of strengths. Notre Dame is No. 1, Wooden seemed to be saying, for right now.
"You don't mind if we don't show up next week, do you, John?" Irish Coach Digger Phelps said to Wooden.
"You better," Wooden answered with a smile.