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The most serious immediate concern centered around Guards Andre McCarter and Jim Spillane and prize freshmen Brad Holland and Roy Hamilton. Bartow called it his toughest decision in 20 years of coaching; he ended up choosing the older pair. McCarter and Spillane would start. In fact, the freshmen would not even make the trip to St. Louis, since a new NCAA rule allows a team only 10 players for road games. That left Holland to earn his baptism under fire in a different manner. The brush fires north of Los Angeles last week threatened his parents' home and forced them to evacuate. The rest of the UCLA team was beginning to feel some heat, too. "We need a win," admitted Spillane. "It'll help relax the coaches."
In the week before leaving for St. Louis, Bartow installed a play cribbed from last year's book. He hoped it would bring more movement to an offense that had become as undependable as a dashboard clock. And he had the Bruins practice against a six-man, then a seven-man defense, trying to give them a taste of Indiana's pressure.
Hunt scouted the Hoosiers game with the Soviets and reported that they were in "midseason form." Indiana's demolition defense particularly worried him. "They've got five guys fouling at the same time, and it's hard for the officials to pick out one man," he said gravely. "On offense they set a lot of moving picks, and Knight intimidates the referees so much that they don't call it."
St. Louis, theoretically, was a neutral site for the game, but it is only five hours by car from Bloomington, Ind. More than 8,000 fans and the school band made the trip. UCLA did not even have its cheerleaders; they had remained in Los Angeles to root for the football team against Southern Cal the night before. The St. Louis Arena had a definite red and white color scheme.
And because of the Indiana defense there was a little black and blue mixed in. The effectiveness of the Hoosiers' pressure tactics can be credited to the bruising play of Guards Quinn Buckner and Bob Wilkerson. So far Buckner has overshadowed Wilkerson, but that could change. It is hard to overlook a 6'7" backcourt man who jumps center and has arms that seem to telescope. "I can gamble on defense because with his arms Bobby can take two guys," says Buckner. Wilkerson is as coy about his wingspan as Zsa Zsa is about her age. "Just put down that I need extra-extra-long shirts," he says.
With a decided disadvantage at guard, UCLA needed a big game inside, especially from Center Ralph Drollinger. The erratic, skinny seven-footer had come through before, particularly in last season's title game against Kentucky, but Benson held Drollinger to two points and two rebounds and made the UCLA center as insignificant a factor as background music. Benson approached the game in his usual ravenous fashion. On Wednesday night he devoured a steak for three. His appetite is legendary, and this year he looks as quick with his feet as with his fork. "Strong?" says muscular ex-footballer Buckner. " Kent threw me out of the gym one day. I won't mess with him anymore."
Indiana was taking no chances that the Bruins would get a sneak preview of the test that awaited them. Ever fearful of dark deeds by opponents, the Hoosiers even put out a cover story as part of "Operation Decoy." They made early reservations at one motel, then at the very last minute checked into another, just in case the Bruins had infiltrated the bellboy corps. Knight did not coach at Army for nothing.
Indiana was especially security conscious because it had a couple of gambles in mind, and almost as soon as the game began it became clear that the Hoosiers had rolled winners on both. Benson needed desperately to stay out of foul trouble, since his backup, 6'8" Mark Haymore, was left off the traveling squad and the tallest player on the bench was a mere 6'5". That one worked out beautifully when Benson committed only one foul in the first half.
The second tactic also clicked. May is the team's best defensive player, a man who makes fewer mistakes than a veteran of the bomb squad. So he guarded the Bruins' quick Marques Johnson, while the slower Tom Abernethy had to cover towering Rich Washington. UCLA started the game by forcing the ball inside to Washington. He had the open shots but missed, and Indiana edged into a lead that forced UCLA to play catch-up from the opening moments. With Wilkerson and Buckner pressuring the guards and May, Abernethy and Benson slapping away passes into the middle, UCLA never established its inside offense.
Before the game Buckner had complained to the officials that the floor was slippery. It was a hot, humid night in St. Louis, the playing surface was laid over an ice hockey rink and a film of condensation made it treacherous. Even this helped Indiana. At the half the Hoosiers had a 36-28 lead so UCLA had to keep hurrying to catch up on the slippery floor. And the Bruins literally fell down in their efforts. "The floor kept getting worse, and so did we," moaned McCarter.