God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.
(after Reinhold Niebuhr)
Like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, college basketball cannot change the past, the present or the future. UCLA defeated Louisville 96-77 and Florida State 81-76. The Bruins won the national championship. So it goes.
It went like always in the Los Angeles Sports Arena last week when UCLA came face to face with three challengers from the South and proceeded to win the NCAA title almost as quickly as you can say hush puppy. The Bruins won their sixth championship in a row, their eighth in the last nine years and, on the final day that they drove ol' Dixie down, Bill Walton (see cover) was not even at his best.
He was good enough. Walton led the tournament in points (57), rebounds (41), blocked shots, time-outs and, distressingly, moans. It was this final, perhaps sophomoric, tendency to complain too much that marred an otherwise perfect conclusion to his wondrous rookie season as the college game's Player of the Year.
From the beginning it was a tournament of crosscurrents, transmigrations, in-laws and, some said, outlaws. The Florida State coach was from the city of Louisville; the Louisville coach from UCLA. A UCLA guard, Tommy Curtis, was recruited out of Tallahassee while two Florida State players were from Louisville, two others from North Carolina. The Tar Heels did not have anybody from any of the others' places, and during the one horrifying half of basketball that meant their downfall, a UCLA fan sent them on their way back to nowhere with "Hey, what league are you guys from? Hunger?"
For those partial to drama, intrigue and the Gospel according to St. Luke (15:11-32), the neatest clash of the week involved the return of the prodigal Crum to Los Angeles. Denny Crum, the former assistant to UCLA Coach John Wooden, had departed Westwood for Louisville and already he had made it back to do battle with his old mentor.
A native of Southern California, Crum had many friends in L.A., but his quick tongue and cocksure nature had earned him enemies, too. Also, his sudden success with an inherited team of good veterans raised jealous hackles in the coaching fraternity. "Denny's a climber," said one. "He's done a fine job, yes, but he moved to a great situation. He's probably put in for the Cincinnati coaching job already so he can get back to the finals next year."
One journalist reported that Crum and Wooden were not all that friendly; that after their celebrated argument on the bench during the finals at Houston last year, the two had a falling-out; that Crum was exiled to Louisville rather than leaving of his own accord.
It is true that Wooden and Crum often disagreed, and the two are vastly dissimilar in life-styles and personalities. Wooden once told student Crum: "Denny, you're the world's greatest cardplayer...from nose to chin." But their differences ended there, and both seemed delighted that the other had reached the tournament semifinals.
"I'm tickled Denny's here," said Wooden. "It's just too bad one of us has to lose."
"I like to play friends for fun, not for real," said Crum.
In the runway before the game, as the UCLA and Louisville players lined up waiting to go on, Walton playfully grabbed Crum and said, "Coach, where's the money you promised me last year under the table?" UCLA's Greg Lee kidded Crum about his "pitiful" sideburns. Then everybody started moving.
If Denny Crum had been told right then that his team would hold Bill Walton to 13 shots, that Louisville's marvelous Jim Price would embarrass Henry Bibby 30 points to two, that the Cards would beat the UCLA zone press, play tough defense themselves and commit only 11 errors to the Bruins' 21, he would have figured—as would anybody—that the game would be close. It wasn't.
Walton dominated everything right away. On defense he harassed Price the first time the Louisville guard drove the lane. Price stayed away thereafter. Walton intercepted Al Vilcheck's first pass and blocked his first shot. He took away Ron (The Horse) Thomas' inside moves to such an extent that Thomas had to go outside where, sorrowfully, he was a horse with no game.
By the time Walton called time out at 9:40 of the first half, he had outscored Louisville 16-14 by himself and UCLA led 20-14. Though the Cards were behind by only eight at the half, the closest any team had come to the Bruins in the first 20 minutes all season, they had to know it was hopeless. Nine times they had beaten the press to earn a two-on-one situation against Walton and an open shot from the corner; nine times they had missed. So it goes.
Louisville, in frustration, became quite physical with Walton and several heated exchanges took place. At one point Mike Lawhon, who was to miss all seven of his floor shots but sneak in some nice fist shots on Walton's body, yelled at the redhead, "You big crybaby. What a candy you are."
Walton rocked and fumed on the free-throw line. "These two are for you," he snarled at Lawhon as he rammed in the free throws. "And I'll see you after the game."
With the aid of Larry Farmer's 15 second-half points, UCLA ran out the string as Walton finished with 33 points and 21 rebounds. Vilcheck and Thomas, both of whom fouled out, were beaten but not cordial. "Walton is strong, but you can't touch him," said Vilcheck. "The officials put him in a cage. He cries a lot, constantly, and he's too good a man to do that."
Both at Los Angeles last week and at Provo, Utah in the regional championships the week before there were accusations by many objective authorities that Walton did protest overmuch and that he was "protected" by the referees. Long Beach ranted against him in the West Regional. So did Louisville in the semifinals. And in the final against Florida State there was evidence that the 6'11" sophomore got the better of the officiating early in the game.
Walton is too domineering a player to complain about rough play as much as he does, but this, hopefully, is a trait of youth and easily corrected. The only cage around him is the one set up by UCLA officials, who have been accused before of creating a paranoiac feeling among the Bruins toward the outside world. Walton would not respond to the "crybaby" charges.
For North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, it was another finals week to weep over. He did everything possible to keep his players' minds on the semifinal game against Florida State and not have them looking ahead to UCLA. The No. 2-ranked Tar Heels practiced at Pepperdine instead of the Sports Arena. (Not even Pepperdine plays at Pepperdine.) They kept their watches set on Eastern Standard Time. They ate the right foods, drank plenty of liquids and wore nice blue blazers—only to be ripped apart by a case of Petty larceny.
"We live on quickness but Florida State is quicker," a concerned Smith said before the game. "Mr. Petty goes beep-beep and it's all over."
How true. Otto(mobile) Petty, all 5'7" of him, entered the game for the Seminoles midway in the first half and North Carolina never even heard the beep-beep. A wisp of a player who zips in and out of graffic as his nickname suggests, Otto went into high gear immediately. He took his tall and speedy teammates from a one-point lead to a 45-32 halftime margin as the Heels tottered into their traditional NCAA collapse.
When Petty wasn't deflating the Carolina pressure defense, he was feeding Ron King and Reggie Royals for points. Florida State soon led by an astounding 23 of them.
Suddenly Carolina woke up and turned things around. Robert McAdoo, who played the game of his life, started the rally only to foul out on a curious pushing call when he had bodies ail over his back. Still the Tar Heels came on with Dennis Wuycik throwing them in from his socks.
They came to 70-65 before Florida State's Durham called time with 5:13 left to switch his Seminoles into a zone. Against this strategy Carolina had four different chances to cut the lead some more but blew every one. When Kim Huband, the team's best outside shooter, came off the bench to take an open 15-footer and hit only oxygen, the Tar Heels were finally dead by 79-75.
And so here came Hugh Durham and Florida State into the national championship game. This was a Florida State that had been on probation so long the players' wrists were still yellow from the cuffs. A team which, back-to-back, won a game with 134 points and lost one with 10. A former girls' school, Florida State lost that 30-10 forfeit to Hawaii and won what could be a swan song over Adolph Rupp. It was practically booked and fingerprinted in the NCAA "affidavit" fiasco of two weeks ago. With nine blacks and another player nobody was sure of because he tied his hair in knots and went under the name of "Cochise," the Seminoles were—yuk, yuk—the dark horses of the tournament. The whole thing was just too much for Bill Wall, the president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. At midday on Friday, Durham—on the verge of his finest moment in the profession—got hit between the eyes.
At a press conference Wall, the coach at tiny MacMurray, spoke about the many and admitted ills of the game. And then he blasted Florida State. In a series of remarks that can only be called ill-advised at best, Wall referred to Durham as the coach who "has been caught with his hand in the till twice. I resent the fact that they are here," Wall said. "The coaches are amazed, disgusted and disillusioned." Wall apparently was talking about recruiting violations that had put Florida State on probation the previous three seasons.
Durham, whose school is considering a lawsuit, said only that he would "not get down to Wall's level," and at Friday's afternoon practice session UCLA's Wooden consoled him.
"I'm sorry about all this," Wooden said. "I want you to know we don't feel the same way."
(The irony of their meeting was that the school on probation in the finals was not Florida State but UCLA, whose punishment—because of football hanky-panky—carries a "without restrictions" clause that is a joke to independent schools everywhere.)
Down the court Walton, in blue jeans and button-down shirt, watched the Seminoles warm up. Lawrence McCray, FSU's 6'11" center, spotted him and nervously missed his next six layups. Almost imperceptibly, Walton lifted his fist in a wave. McCray smiled and fist-saluted back, but then he walked away from the basket and did not shoot inside again until Walton had left.
Saturday afternoon, with unproved allegations and the Walls of the world crashing down on them, the Seminoles made a gallant and thrilling stand against UCLA. They made two runs at the Bruins, early and late, but first Walton and then Keith (Silk) Wilkes spoiled the Seminoles' dreams.
After missing twice to open the game, Florida State hit its next seven shots and took a 21-14 lead. It was the only time this season UCLA had trailed by more than four points. And it was a shock. But the Seminoles—and especially McCray—were getting in foul trouble. Quickly, Bibby and Walton brought the Bruins back to a tie. Then—wouldn't you know it?—the Tallahassee Sassy, Curtis, ignited UCLA to a 50-39 halftime lead.
Florida State was so busy swarming around Walton that Wilkes went roaming, and he got free enough to wind up with 23 points and make the plays that stopped the Seminoles' final surge.
With Walton on the bench for a while—he had four fouls, meaning there must have been some holes in that cage—and with King hitting for the challengers, FSU cut a 16-point deficit to 79-72 toward the end. But the Seminoles then turned the ball over three times, once when Wilkes knocked a pass away. Wilkes also controlled a crucial jump ball with 1:05 left and scored UCLA's final layup that clinched the championship—quite a day's work for an 18-year-old.
Walton's reaction to the victory was puzzling. With a disturbing, almost disdainful attitude, he told the press he was "not elated." He felt as though he had lost the game. He gave a few "no comments." He snapped off tart replies. He was sarcastic, defensive, and he stormed off muttering, "I've answered enough questions." Later a woman, bedecked with a UCLA badge and ribbons, took his picture, and the center stunned her with, "I thought they told you in Provo not to do that." Bill Walton was honest in Los Angeles, but it was a childish show off the court.
"We don't like to back into things," he said. "We didn't dominate the way I know we can." But a perfect 30-0 season and 45 victories in a row were enough for Wooden, who was more gracious to his opponents.
Next season UCLA will find various new motivations. Early, the Bruins need three consecutive victories for a school record. Midway, they need 16 wins to break the alltime mark of 60 straight set by Bill Russell's teams from San Francisco. And later there will be another NCAA tournament.
"I hope I never get to the position of thinking just in terms of records," Wooden said. "I don't want to think about 60. I want to win the next one—what is it? No. 46. I want to win 46 in a row."
John Wooden plays them one national championship at a time.
Benign, be-Bruined and be-pomponed. Wooden strolls off with another championship.