SI Vault
Barry McDermott
February 16, 1976
Just when it seemed the Bruins were hibernating, they won two big games to restore hopes for a national title
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February 16, 1976

Grim, But They're Bearing It

Just when it seemed the Bruins were hibernating, they won two big games to restore hopes for a national title

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Marques Johnson allowed that it might be significant that other teams cut down the nets and have them bronzed when they beat UCLA. In Seattle, Washington was waiting with the scissors. The years have been cruel to the Huskies. They managed to beat the Bruins last year 103-81 for the first time in 13 seasons, and still wound up tied for fifth in the Pac-8. But they approached this game with confidence and a share of the conference lead with UCLA and Oregon State. Nevertheless, Washington Coach Marv Harshman was wary: "I'm half scared. I'm afraid these guys have woken up."

Washington has played good inside defense this year, and against UCLA Harshman wanted to put the pressure on the Bruins' guards. McCarter never has even received honorable mention recognition on the Pac-8 all-conference teams, and most of the season he has been inconsistent. "I'm trying to find out what the coach wants me to do," said McCarter, who for the past few weeks has been dribbling a basketball to class.

The danger of playing on the road with a hostile crowd is that if the home team gets off to a good start, the momentum of the game can overwhelm the opponent, which is what had happened to UCLA at Oregon State. So Bartow squirmed in anguish as Washington came down and scored the first five times it handled the ball, and 12 of the first 14, taking a 24-18 lead.

By then Drollinger and Jimmy Spillane were off the bench to replace Greenwood and McCarter. Spillane began the season as a starter, and earlier in the week he had groused to himself on the sidelines at practice that "I'm not even on this team." But his presence helped immensely against Washington as Bartow went to a 2-1-2 zone that baffled the taller Huskies. Spillane made three steals and a bunch of right decisions before he twisted an ankle in the second half. Many times this season the Bruins' guards arrived at a crossroads and made the choice that sent them to Destruction Gap. Against the Huskies the entire backcourt played remarkably, hitting 11 of 12 shots and never allowing the game to get away after the Bruins took the lead midway in the first half. Even a halftime cheer led by Washington President John Hogness did not help the Huskies. "It looked like the old UCLA tonight," admitted Huskie Guard Clarence Ramsey.

And while Townsend was at the foul line sinking two free throws with 1:49 to go, word came over the public-address system that Oregon State had been upset by Cal. There was jubilation in the Bruins' locker room. McCarter pointed out to Bartow that he had not missed a shot, though the score sheet showed he had. "Andre's shooting the ball," chortled Gavin Smith, pointing his finger for emphasis. "And that's what we need."

The mood at a workout Friday afternoon in Washington State's Performing Arts Coliseum was typical of the change in coaches. Wooden's practices were solemn affairs, conducted in silence. Bartow allows the players to banter among themselves.

After running through the opposition's plays—a nuance Wooden never bothered with—the players held a jumping contest won by reserve Center Brett Vroman. Johnson and Washington tied for second. Then everyone practiced dunks.

George Raveling, the Washington State coach and a friend of Bartow's, walked in near the end of the workout. "Hey, Gene, success in Los Angeles is 30 wins," he said. "I don't think the Lord could have done better than you—and He created the players. Those fans would be saying, 'Fire the Lord.' "

"They would if He broke that winning streak at Pauley," Bartow agreed.

His mood had improved dramatically with the defeat of Washington. It was the first time in anyone's memory that UCLA had won a game using a zone defense. Bartow had left himself open to criticism by employing it, and it had come through.

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