So here we are again in unpretentious Oregon, where somebody is always discovering clean air, fresh sod, perfect truth, the Pendleton shirt and 10 surefire ways to beat UCLA in February—while not losing to that other team from Los Angeles, USC, in the process.
That is what had to happen last week for the mad scramble in the Pacific Eight—heretofore known as Snow White Wooden and the Seven Dwarfs—to remain close. But though USC was staggered once, nobody touched UCLA, and now it is probably too late. For one thing, the Bruins are rounding into championship form. For another, the Spider, UCLA's incredible screaming monster, David Meyers, is loose.
What began as the most interesting weekend of Pac Eight basketball in years ended with the Bruins (6-1) installed firmly at the head of the class, Oregon State (5-2) close at hand, USC (4-3) sinking, Oregon (3-4) reeling, and everybody trying to figure out why Stanford (also 4-3) has beaten all the teams ahead of it and lost to three behind.
Another thing to ponder now is whether Meyers can possibly be human. Or is his neck put together with zippers? Although he is known as the Spider, he doesn't exactly creep up on you. One coach says, "Meyers plays as if he has a mad-on against the world."
Just warming up to his full intensity on Friday, the Spider scored 17 points and made a brilliant, intimidating defensive play to protect a 67-60 victory over Oregon State. But the next night he truly roared, dominating the Oregon Ducks, making 14 of 18 field-goal tries, 11 of 11 free throws and 39 points. After UCLA had won 107-103, what did Meyers have to say about his performance? "I like drinking the water in Oregon. It's really cold." Sure, Spider. O.K., men, check the zippers.
Meyers was not the only figure lurking along the Oregon Trail. The Bruins' Richard Washington, a Portland lad who in high school was called by the governor "a natural resource not to be exported," returned home to wreck State with 21 points. Whiling away the tense hours, USC's Gus Williams carried his bowling ball around in a cardboard box. Then he showed why he is one of the best guards in the West by leading the Trojans past Oregon 81-80 and almost rallying them in their 78-75 loss to State.
Meanwhile Referee Lou Soriano was attacked by a spectator in Eugene and had to fight his way to safety. Oregon State Coach Ralph Miller set a Pacific Northwest record for chain smoking. Oregon Coach Dick Harter, the former Penn man, went Quackers, threw his program nearly as high as Miller's smoke rings and lost a game because of it. And then there were hearty Oregonians going around saying things like "Beaver Fever" and "Go Big Green Butt-Kicking Machine," depending on whether they preferred the furry team in Corvallis or the web-footed one in Eugene.
What the weekend also demonstrated was that the Pacific Eight has become the best and best balanced basketball conference in the land. Its record against nonleague opponents is 73-18. All four teams competing in Oregon were ranked in the top 20 when the action started. Two other conference squads (Cal and Washington State) have won more games than they did all last season. And of the 28 league games played, 12 have been decided by three points or fewer or have gone into overtime.
A year ago signs of this impending feast were seen when Oregon State and Oregon upset UCLA on its annual visit to the soggy Willamette Valley. Both hosts, however, lost to USC and were not involved in the race again. This time everybody was bunched at the top just itching to have at one another.
Both Oregon and Oregon State actually were able to look forward to the weekend with some confidence. Harter's Ducks are led by muscular Guard Ron Lee, while their insatiable defense is inspired by another Lee, Bruce. Oregon plays Kung Fu Fighting and the players are not called "Kamikaze Kids" because of almond-shaped eyes. Lesser-known Oregon State gets most of its punch from 6'8", 235-pound Lonnie Shelton, a former high school tight end who has been called " Mean Joe Greene with a shooting touch."