IU’s off for Philly and NCAA

IU’s off for Philly and NCAA

by Bob Hammel, H-T Sports Editor

March 26, 1976

From the March 26, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

Indiana comes to the end of a perfect year this weekend, hoping to close it the way it began – with the Hoosiers No. 1.

A disbelieving field awaits in Philadelphia in the 38th NCAA finals.

Rutgers (31-0) and Michigan (24-6) meet in Saturday’s first game (2:15 p.m., Ch. 2, 4) in what Hoosier backers hope will determine whether this year the meet has its first final game between two unbeaten teams or two from one league.

But to fill out its half of either formula, the Hoosiers will have to repeat a season-opening victory over UCLA. The Bruins, perennial brutes of the NCAA tourney, are back for the 10th straight time – in the same baby blue and gold but a vastly different role.

This year’s Bruins are underdogs and they no longer are coached by John Wooden – factors that may not be altogether unrelated. Wooden himself was always good for a point or two on the oddsmakers’ charts, but that would not have been enough to change the first NCAA game in modern times in which UCLA wasn’t favored. Indiana is the consensus pick – by 5 to 5 1/2 shaky points.

Bruin coach Gene Bartow is in the field for the first time as UCLA’s coach but the second time as the coach of a Final Four team. Bartow took his 1973 Memphis State team to St. Louis and was runner-up to Wooden’s UCLA team, which blitzed him on the night of Bill Walton’s epic 21-for-22 shooting performance.

It was that trip, that exposure to the bright lights, that year that saw him picked by his peers as the college basketball coach of the year, that opened the relationship that culminated in Bartow’s going to UCLA. Clearly, the quiet, bespectacled man from Missouri made an impression in defeat on UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan.

Now, Bartow’s back, with “a different feeling.”

“I’m sure the second time is always a little different feeling,” he said. “But it’s nice. That’s what it’s all about.”

It’s also the second trip to the finals, as a coach, for IU’s Bob Knight, who had the same record Bartow did in that 1973 visit. Both beat Providence; both lost to UCLA.

Head-on, Knight has a 3-0 edge over Bartow, counting two games last year when Bartow was coaching at Illinois and the 84-64 Hoosier victory Nov. 29 at St. Louis.

But all of those things are irrelevant now, including the first game, both coaches feel.

“I think I worried too much about the game,” Bartow said. “I said some things and maybe overreacted a little.

“I think we can play better than we played in the first game. We were so concerned about everything we thought Indiana might do offensively and defensively, our practice sessions for the preceding two weeks before the Indiana game were geared to that game – at least a majority of the time.

“We were using a lot of different players then. We’re better organized now than after six weeks of practice.”

From the March 26, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

Bartow has said repeatedly he feels the Bruins are at the top of their game now.

“I think we played some good games in December,” he said. “But we’ve been a great deal more consistent since mid-January.

“The last 10 to 12 games, we’ve been very consistent in almost every game … except the Oregon game (a 65-45 shocker at the Bruins’ Pauley Pavilion). We just shot horrible early in the game, got behind and couldn’t catch up.”

A possible jelling point for this Bruin team was in late January when it won a key conference game at Washington, 92-87.

“Washington at one time was an awfully good team,” he said. “The last two or three weeks of the season, after we beat them a couple of times, they undoubtedly went downhill. But that game up there may have been the best we played all year.

“And the Notre Dame game here (an 86-70 victory in early January) we felt we played awfully well.”

UCLA’s leaders are junior forwards Richard Washington and Marques Johnson. Washington, 6-11, was the outstanding player in last year’s finals, hitting a last-second shot to get the Bruins by Louisville in the semifinals and then leading his team to the championship-game victory over Kentucky.

Johnson is a look-alike of IU’s Scott May – same strong, tapered, 6-7 physique, similar basketball skills.

IU’s second counter to the Washington-Johnson pair is 6-11 junior center Kent Benson.

Neither teams stops there. Andre McCarter of UCLA and Quinn Buckner of Indiana are floor leaders with a world of experience behind them. UCLA alternates freshman David Greenwood and 7-1 Ralph Drollinger in the middle and gets good mileage. IU feels its third man up front, Tom Abernethy, is one of the most underrated players in the tournament.

And what UCLA expects to get from 6-2 Ray Townsend in shooting, Indiana plans to pick up in defense, rebounding and overall play from 6-7 Bob Wilkerson.

The Bruin bench is more noted than Indiana’s but it may not be more tested. Wayne Radford came on to score 16 points and win the tight Michigan game for Indiana in February. Radford, Rich Valavicius and Jim Crews were the men spotted in to take the pressure off when Benson ran into foul trouble against Alabama and May had to sit out more than 13 minutes against Marquette.

Michigan and Rutgers are exceptionally quick teams that may run ‘n gun their way to a 99-98 game in the opener. Both like to run and score. Rutgers has averaged 94 points a game in its first unbeaten season, while Michigan led the Big Ten in scoring.

Neither of the two first-game teams has ever won the championship – Michigan reaching the final game in 1965 before losing to UCLA.

And neither of the two second-game teams has ever lost a championship after reaching the finals. Indiana is 2-for-2 (1940 and ’53), UCLA 10-for-10 (1964, ’65, ’67 through ’73 and ’75).