How bad did you
guys win today?" someone asked Bill Walton as UCLA's giant redhead stood in
the lobby of a Portland motel on Saturday night. "Win?" Walton replied.
"We lost, man." His voice was barely audible.
Why, you guys are the best!"
Walton shook his
head sadly, and his teammate Greg Lee said, "Not anymore we're
So it was on
UCLA's lost weekend along the Oregon Trail, where The Walton Gang was ambushed
twice—by Oregon State 61-57 and by Oregon 56-51—in two of college basketball's
most shocking upsets in years. It was the first time since 1966—the only
non-title year in UCLA's reign of terror from '64 to '73—that a John Wooden
team has been beaten back to back. Ironically, it was the Oregon schools that
also did it then, killing all conference title hopes for a team decimated by
injuries and illness. This time, at least, UCLA returned home tied for first
place in the Pacific Eight with USC, which defeated both Oregon teams handily
offense broke down. The Bruins committed an assortment of costly turnovers, 21
against OSU, 17 against Oregon. They seemed tentative and lacked precision.
They missed easy shots and rarely, if ever, made baskets off their fast break.
They looked nothing at all like the team that had reclaimed its No. 1 ranking
with a smashing win over Notre Dame last month.
after the Oregon defeat that he was to blame. "I made some changes in our
offense the past week to give us more movement," he said. "I thought it
would make us sharper but instead it made us hesitant. Maybe, in retrospect, I
made a mistake."
In both games,
the Bruins faced man-to-man defenses that double-teamed Walton, shut off the
driving lanes for Forward Keith Wilkes and generally made life miserable for
playmaking Guards Tommy Curtis and Greg Lee. They tried to feed Walton inside
but when Walton ran into congestion, he had to return the ball outside, where
his teammates usually were standing around instead of maneuvering to get open.
Result: those turnovers—most of them by Walton—that limited UCLA to
astonishingly few shots (45 against OSU, 47 against Oregon) and forced the NCAA
champs to play catch-up against teams that froze the ball near the finish to
keep the games out of reach.
In Corvallis such
tactics almost cost Oregon State the victory. State went into a 57-50 lead and
then with three minutes remaining, attempted to hand the game to UCLA by taking
some bad shots. With 33 seconds to go it was 57-56, but OSU freshman Guard
George Tucker put in four trembling free throws in the final 25 seconds, and
Oregon State was safe, 61-57. "If I could have found a place to go that
last couple of minutes," said Coach Ralph Miller, "I'd have
John Wooden was
more upset than after the loss to Notre Dame that ended UCLA's 88-game winning
streak. "We're certainly not No. 1," he said. "Not the way we're
playing. I wasn't concerned about it last week. I am now."