SI Vault
Frank Deford
December 20, 1965
UCLA crossed the country to discover in back-to-back games that Duke no longer fears the famous press, can handle it easily and will be a powerful contender for the Bruins' national championship
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December 20, 1965

A Lost Weekend In Carolina

UCLA crossed the country to discover in back-to-back games that Duke no longer fears the famous press, can handle it easily and will be a powerful contender for the Bruins' national championship

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The game ended with the ball bouncing on the floor for the last official seconds, nobody on either team caring about it anymore. By the gun, most of the players were at least pointed in the right direction for getting to the locker rooms. The UCLA players left in a daze and a hurry, as losing teams do, shuffling, eyes guarded. They paused only to receive handshakes from their conquerors, and were off.

Then the Duke players went out, hugging each other and proud, the way winning teams do. Next, the referees and the managers and the Duke coach. Vic Bubas, and the assistants and trainers left. All of a sudden the only one there, way down by the Bruins' bench, was John Wooden, the UCLA coach.

Wooden acknowledged the hometown broadcasters across the court, but before heading over for an interview he noticed various artifacts his team had left behind in its embarrassed exit. He picked up a water bottle, saw three towels and collected them also. UCLA towels are very special. Each player has his own, clipped with his name tag. The towels are carefully handled when not in use, and each player receives only his own when he calls for one. During the past two years, when UCLA was the best team in the land, it also won top honors for hygiene.

Finally, John Wooden moved up to the broadcasters, and if people had looked instead of stomping in time to the Duke band they would have noticed that there were sizable red splotches of blood on the UCLA towels. There was blood on the Carolina moon.

It had been that bad. No vendetta—just two rough, hard but fair games—but in two nights in the Carolina pines UCLA had been outplayed, outshot, outdefensed, outrebounded and outhustled. When Mike Lynn, the UCLA center, was clobbered going for a rebound late in the second game, the Bruins knew that they had been out bloodied too. The scores were 82-66 in Durham and 94-75 in Charlotte—which means that in this one lost weekend the-Bruins dropped as many games against regular varsity competition as they had since 1963. ( UCLA did lose other games to Olympic-trial all-star teams, and a few weeks ago it was routed by a Los Angeles children's crusade that is headed by 7-foot-1 Lew Alcindor and goes by the name of the Brubabes, meaning UCLA freshmen. The Brubabes resemble that collection of Ohio State kids led by Jerry Lucas who won the NCAA title in their sophomore year. Next December they will entertain Duke in back-to-back games in Los Angeles.)

UCLA arrived in Durham as the No. 1 team in the land, by manifesto of the wire services. This was, however, little more than a concession to golden memories. Wooden himself admitted that it was an ersatz credit. The Bruins were still without their fine guard, Freddie Goss, who has been felled by some mysterious malady, and Gail Goodrich and Keith Erickson were gone. Goodrich and Erickson were not only All-Americas, they were absolutely typecast for the UCLA press, just about as important to the team as Laurel and Hardy were to Laurel and Hardy movies.

Goodrich and Erickson made the fabled UCLA zone press the lethal weapon that it was—Gail scrambling up front, Keith saving in the rear. Without them, Duke exposed it as no more than a nuisancy delaying action. Only six times in 75 tries in the two games did UCLA succeed in stealing the ball before the Blue Devils could clear midcourt. Only once, late in the first half of the second game, did the Bruins make it the frightening menace it used to be. Then, led by sophomore Guard Mike Warren, they forced three turnovers with the press to cut a consistently double-figure deficit to 36-33. But in two minutes Duke ran it back up to 44-37. The Blue Devils raised the margin to 16 early in the second half and settled the game. The night before, Duke had blown the game open by the half. Throughout Duke not only beat the press, but then hit the shots that quickly followed.

What Duke actually broke was not just one full-court press but four different varieties. Wooden is searching for the right press to conform to the limitations of this team, so he tried a new setup in each of the four halves. In the past two championship years he was able to pick the arrangement he thought best and stick with it for the full season.

The chief distinguishing factor in the UCLA pressing game is whether or not the individual opponent trying to throw the ball inbounds is pressed. Last year he was. The year before, the clamp came after that first pass. In the games with Duke it appeared that the new Bruins work better by contesting the inbounds pass; nevertheless, their one flurry of success, in that first half of the second game, came when they were permitting the pass in. This may be accounted for, though, by the fact that this particular press—a 2-2-1, with the middle two floating quite a bit—was better suited to picking up the Duke men slicing upcourt.

All the presses failed, because Duke was always able to locate a free man for a release pass when a trap appeared imminent. This is a tribute to the extreme coolness that the Blue Devils, and particularly Guard Steve Vacendak, exhibited under pressure. But it also showed how badly UCLA was hurt by the loss of Erickson. Edgar Lacey, a junior All-America candidate now playing Erick-son's safety-man slot, made not a single steal in either game. Duke might have been too sophisticated even for Erickson. Bubas had schooled the team meticulously in attacking the press, placing as much emphasis upon the mental approach as on tactics. Fear alone has been known to help UCLA.

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