"You look at North Carolina last year, at Marquette, at Las Vegas," he says. "They didn't have the seven-foot center, and they were able to go quite far. So it's not a factor that we can't deal with. We can get by with our mobility and our quickness. We can do other things that the big guys can't do."
Seattle offered a pretty good test of that countertheory on Sunday, because it arrived in L.A. with a rather sizable weapon, seven-foot Jawann Oldham. The Chieftains' towering center was the leading scorer in the game with 22 points, but he got most of them after UCLA had used its speed to build up a huge lead en route to a 106-73 victory. And the Bruins showed that they may have an unexpected asset at center—flexibility. When Oldham burned the slender Sims several times early in the second half, Cunningham sent in the muscular Allums to put a stop to it, which he did.
The BYU game Saturday night was one of the most exciting ever seen in Pauley, although it probably was not fully appreciated by UCLA fans, who had not yet recovered from the last-minute football loss to USC on Friday. One coronary per weekend is their limit. BYU Coach Frank Arnold also was a Wooden assistant, and he brought in a fair-to-middlin' team that ran its offense nicely, setting picks that even an NFL fullback could not get through. The result was a lot of open, medium-range jumpers, and the Cougars hit them.
BYU led 38-34 at halftime, but after the intermission, UCLA slowly edged to an eight-point lead and it seemed time for the roof to cave in on the visitors. Instead it collapsed on the Bruins. Greenwood and Vandeweghe fouled out, Hamilton missed a free throw and Townsend had the ball stolen from him. Faster than you could say Jack Robinson ( UCLA, '41), the score was tied at 73, UCLA in possession, 0:24 left.
On the ensuing play, Hamilton could not get the ball inside to Sims, so he drove the baseline and flipped a pass out to Townsend at the free-throw line. Townsend missed his shot, but Forward James Wilkes tapped the ball in at the buzzer.
"I always say a close game is good for you as long as you win it," said Cunningham, who has obviously studied the Wooden manual on postgame quotes. The rabid Bruin fans cheered loudly, indicating that they are willing to be patient—so long as Cunningham wins the close ones. Still, those who are fixated by visions of more national championships could hardly find much solace in the narrow home-court victory over un-ranked BYU.
But the resounding win over Seattle and the testimony of the UCLA players, many of whom did not like Bartow's system, should keep the alums off Cunningham's back, at least for the moment.
"It is totally different than last year," says Greenwood. "It's like the last two years have been washed away. Last season we ran an offense with a double-low post on one side, and we also ran patterns intended to get Marques Johnson the ball. This year Coach Cunningham has high-post and low-post offenses designed so that no one is ever standing. No one will ever look lethargic, like he's watching two or three others play.
"Last year Coach Bartow stressed playing defense after your man received the ball. This year we're stressing denying your man the ball. And Coach Cunningham said the only time we will use a zone is if we are in desperate, desperate trouble."
One thing bothers Greenwood. He has not been on a team that has won one of those blue and gold NCAA-championship banners hanging from the Pauley rafters. "By now I expected to have two championship rings," he says, "but things didn't work out. I still have two years left, and with any luck we can win one or maybe two championships." Gary Cunningham's job may depend on it.