" UCLA is the only contender," Harter said prophetically before the games. "The league hasn't shown we can handle the Bruins yet." But neither northern coach was overlooking the other invader. Harter has never beaten USC, and Miller could count only two victories against the Trojans. "What USC does is ride UCLA's coattails," said Miller through his cigarette smoke. "Kids can't get up for the Trojans and Bruins on the same weekend."
Be that as it may, USC Coach Bob Boyd believes that his team is better on the road than UCLA. The Trojans tend to miss free throws—15 feet seems out of their range—and, Boyd says, "We don't animalize anybody." Still, they are a smart, veteran outfit, disciplined to take only good shots and, in the team's words, not to "drop their pack."
"That means losing poise," says 6'10" senior John Lambert. "What hurts is we've lost two games, but we know we're the best team in the league."
That may come as a shock to the men of UCLA, who two weeks before had defeated USC at home by five points. The Bruins are a different crew this season, surely less talented than in the Walton years when, Meyers says, "monumental clashes" divided the team, but definitely more cohesive and enthusiastic. They even eat meat.
After much criticism from UCLA fans, Guard Pete Trgovich is playing the best basketball of his career, and there is a welcome absence of the old UCLA arrogance. Meyers even recognizes fallibility. "Good teams make a mess of our press," he said. "I get too tired pressing anyway. We have other weapons. There will be no ambush this week."
On Friday night in Corvallis, Meyers took care of that. Exploiting breakdowns in the UCLA press, Oregon State went ahead by eight points in the first half. But Wooden, turning from Wizard to Juggler, made eight lineup changes in 10 minutes to cut into the lead. After the coach "severely chided" the Bruins at intermission, UCLA scored the first eight points of the second half to take command.
Washington, working around the lane against Shelton, scored 17 points in the period as the Bruins maintained an uneasy lead. With 2:10 left, OSU had a chance to cut the margin to three points when Guard Charlie Neal made a steal and headed for a fast-break layup. But trailing the play was the ferocious Meyers at full bore. Planting his feet, faking an exaggerated swoop-leap and screaming something otherworldly, Meyers terrorized Neal into slamming the ball up on the board so hard it caromed nearly to midcourt. The Spider had gobbled up the fly without even leaving his feet, and UCLA was safe.
Forty miles away in Eugene, Southern Cal and Oregon were unsafe at any speed. In a contest that included 51 turnovers, 19 ties and enough howling madness to encourage mob rule at Oregon's renowned "Pit," the fact that the outcome turned on a technical foul was Pit-iful. But it did and the Ducks' Harter, who said, "We deserved to win," had only himself to blame when they didn't.
The Oregon coach had watched his team come from a 10-point deficit in the first half to go ahead briefly late in the game. But with the score tied at 74 and less than a minute left, the Ducks had three shots at taking the lead and none of them dropped. After the third miss USC freshman Steve Malovic grabbed a rebound and fired a long pass to the elusive Williams who drove in, crashing into Oregon's Mark Barwig as he scored.
It was the kind of foul call that normally goes against the visitors, but this time it did not. Referee Soriano whistled a block on Barwig, and Harter could not restrain himself. Flinging his program, he protested enough to draw a technical and create a six-point play for USC and, ultimately, the gut-wrenching defeat for Oregon.