The Bruins knew. They had this one figured all along. What the rest of us had seen before our very eyes when Notre Dame invoked the Golden Dome and Dwight Clay to upset UCLA a week earlier happens, well, only every 89 games or so. Maybe it did not really happen. Maybe, as Marquette Coach Al McGuire said before the two teams met again in Los Angeles on Saturday, it should not have happened.
"All Notre Dame did by winning was guarantee UCLA its eighth straight national championship," McGuire pronounced. Curtis Rowe, who had been around for championship Nos. 3, 4 and 5, came down harder. "If they expect to win in Los Angeles," he said, "they better bring some more players."
And so forth and so on until Irish Coach Digger Phelps finally asked, "What are we supposed to do, apologize to them for winning?"
It became apparent very early in UCLA's 94-75 victory at Pauley Pavilion that apologies would be neither necessary nor enough. Bill Walton was restoring the once and future kingdom.
"Bill's been psyching himself all week for this one," said Larry Farmer, the slender forward on Nos. 5, 6 and 7 who is now a UCLA junior varsity assistant coach. "He gets like this only a few times a year, but when he does he's unstoppable. He wants it, and don't let anybody fool you, the whole team wants it, too."
There were indications that John Wooden himself felt more than the usual concern. Early in the week he admitted, "I may have made some mistakes in the first game, and I see some things we can do better." One of them was to insert freshman Marques Johnson into the starting lineup. A 6'6" forward ordinarily, Johnson went to guard, where he did pretty much as he pleased offensively against the six-foot Clay. Johnson took Dave Meyers' spot on the right side of the offense, Meyers slid over to the left wing and Pete Trgovich went to the bench. "Dave does a little better job of getting Bill the ball from there," explained Wooden. With the adjustments Johnson shot eight for 11 and scored 16 points, Meyers got six assists and Walton turned in the Bruins' best performance of the year. He missed only three of 19 shots, scoring at will over John Shumate and finishing with 32 points.
The game was Walton's even at the beginning when he was committing two turnovers and an offensive foul before scoring the game's first basket, which did not come until after more than two minutes of play. For Notre Dame it was four more minutes before it would score, and at that time the Bruins were up 9-0. The Irish could make only one serious run, chopping a 16-point deficit to seven late in the first half. But two short jumpers by Keith Wilkes thwarted the surge and helped the Bruins to a 43-30 halftime lead that proved insurmountable.
"Yes," said Wilkes later, "I guess we played with a little more intensity than usual. We were motivated."
Walton was nowhere to be found at the finish. After fouling out with 5:39 to play, he turned to the UCLA bench at the far end of the court and with a wave and smile he was gone. He and his team had been devastating in their 60th consecutive victory at home, making 59% of their shots, outrebounding Notre Dame 43-29 and once running up a 27-point lead. At times, this game was reminiscent of UCLA's 32-point rout of Houston six years ago in the rematch following the Bruins' celebrated two-point loss at the Astrodome.
"I think there are times when a loss really can help a team," said Wooden as he sat sipping an orange drink after the game. Even a team that's No. 1.