SI Vault
 
THE STREAKS OF SAN FRANCISCO
Barry McDermott
January 31, 1977
Winners of 19 straight games, the Dons are the top-ranked college basketball team in the country. All they need is 41 more to match their celebrated alumni
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 31, 1977

The Streaks Of San Francisco

Winners of 19 straight games, the Dons are the top-ranked college basketball team in the country. All they need is 41 more to match their celebrated alumni

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

As the sun squeezes through the fog over San Francisco Bay, there is more than a new day dawning. Hard by the freshly scrubbed rabble of Haight-Ashbury, not far from the seamy glitter of North Beach and high atop the college basketball polls sits the University of San Francisco, last year's bad bet but this year's winner. Like California wine, the Dons are good, and getting better.

Most notably, the team has 19 straight victories, winning with such aplomb that it is untested as well as undefeated. Quarrelsome as usual, the Dons appear certain to snarl their way to the West Coast Athletic Conference title and have San Franciscans reminiscing about the days some 20 years ago when Bill Russell and K. C. Jones gave rise to the phrase "defensive pressure" and led USF to back-to-back NCAA championships and 60 straight victories (see page 28).

Perhaps only California could produce a team as dichotomous as this. At one moment it resembles the Beach Boys, at the next Hell's Angels. But the blithe coach, former USF star Bob Gaillard, hangs out a DO NOT DISTURB sign, sips some wine and says with a wink, "Remember the earthquake."

In a sense the earthquake struck last year. San Francisco lost its final three games, all in overtime, and four of its last five and in doing so approached an NCAA record for dissension and rumors. James Hardy, a soft-spoken, chess-playing forward nicknamed "Trouble," refused to play in the second half of the league championship game and several other disgruntled players were packing bags. After one particularly depressing loss, Gaillard and his assistant, Dan Belluomini, found themselves at 2 a.m. at a truck stop on the outskirts of Cincinnati, drowning their sorrows in weak coffee and commiserating with two women bowlers. "Don't worry so much," said one, "you can't hit the head pin every time."

Good advice. Gaillard closed his ears to critics who claimed he should not play so many freshmen—he started three—and this year the silence is deafening. The team's average margin of victory is 19.3 points, and it is averaging 94.6 points a game. The Dons are also among the nation's leaders in field-goal (.544) and free-throw (.774) percentage, and are unchallenged at flamboyant dunks, especially those by Hardy, who after one spectacular stuff told the dazed defenders, "That was over you, and you, and you."

Hardy is one of the squad's remarkable sophomores. Two others are Bill Cartwright, the 7-foot center from Elk Grove, Calif., and Winford Boynes, who was named Northern California Player of the Year last season. When the three first arrived on campus amidst a shower of newspaper clippings, optimistic fans predicted instant title. Instead they got 22-8, that disastrous finish—including a first-round loss in the NIT—and were in need of a team psychiatrist. The problem was that the veterans did not take kindly to the precocious newcomers. After one fight in practice, Forward Ray Hamilton, an ordained minister, muttered, "The devil's in the gym."

Now things are heavenly. Hardy admits "I thought about transferring," and Boynes was contacted by both Louisville and Oklahoma, but only Guard Russ Coleman switched, enrolling at his hometown University of the Pacific. Despite some feeling that it already had too many players, USF shuffled the deck and came up with a new ace in playmaker Chubby Cox, a 6'2" transfer guard who was a starter for two years at Villanova. He has replaced the bad shot with the good pass and is the reason the Dons have 95 more assists and 133 fewer turnovers than the opposition. To demonstrate his contentions, Cox went through four days of practice without taking a shot. "There's more respect for each other now," says Hardy. "Last year we had a lot of bloody practices, but it all worked out."

Occasionally San Francisco still gives the impression of a team that doesn't truly care about the game, but this is a facade. Except for a brief spell when he had an ankle injury, Boynes cannot remember the last day he did not hold a basketball. He has a key to the gym and even practiced shooting on Christmas. "Only for 90 minutes," he points out. "After all, it was Christmas Day." The quick and slick guard once injured his ankle jogging on the hilly streets at 11 p.m. Frequently he roams the city or sits in hotel lobbies all night when he cannot get his mind off basketball. "I used to have idols," he says. "Now I want people to look up to me."

That the 6'�" Boynes is a guard confounds some clubs, but just as important, his switch to the backcourt from forward has allowed 6'6" senior Marlon Redmond to move back inside where he was all-conference as a sophomore. Gaillard was asked why Cartwright was not getting more rebounds—he led the team only twice in its first 17 games. "Pretty hard to do when you have to go up against Redmond and Hardy every night," the coach answered drily.

It is an indication of the club's strength that its team captain, Jeff Randell, its best shooter, Rod Williams, and a richly talented guard, Allen Thompson (nicknamed "Mr. Clean" because he does his laundry twice a day), all are on the bench. "Man for man, going down to the 11th man, we got to be the best," says Boynes. "Sophomore...what is a sophomore? Just a title. We were young last year. This year we are ready to do it." Cartwright says, "The only weakness we have is that there aren't enough positions for the players."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4