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AMBUSHED ON THE OREGON TRAIL
Kenny Moore
February 25, 1974
Not since 1966 had UCLA lost two consecutive games, but when the Bruins were upset in Corvallis and Eugene, there arose the possibility they would miss the NCAA playoffs
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February 25, 1974

Ambushed On The Oregon Trail

Not since 1966 had UCLA lost two consecutive games, but when the Bruins were upset in Corvallis and Eugene, there arose the possibility they would miss the NCAA playoffs

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How bad did you guys win today?" someone asked Bill Walton as UCLA's giant redhead stood in the lobby of a Portland motel on Saturday night. "Win?" Walton replied. "We lost, man." His voice was barely audible.

"You lost! Why, you guys are the best!"

Walton shook his head sadly, and his teammate Greg Lee said, "Not anymore we're not."

So it was on UCLA's lost weekend along the Oregon Trail, where The Walton Gang was ambushed twice—by Oregon State 61-57 and by Oregon 56-51—in two of college basketball's most shocking upsets in years. It was the first time since 1966—the only non-title year in UCLA's reign of terror from '64 to '73—that a John Wooden team has been beaten back to back. Ironically, it was the Oregon schools that also did it then, killing all conference title hopes for a team decimated by injuries and illness. This time, at least, UCLA returned home tied for first place in the Pacific Eight with USC, which defeated both Oregon teams handily last weekend.

What went wrong?

Mostly, the offense broke down. The Bruins committed an assortment of costly turnovers, 21 against OSU, 17 against Oregon. They seemed tentative and lacked precision. They missed easy shots and rarely, if ever, made baskets off their fast break. They looked nothing at all like the team that had reclaimed its No. 1 ranking with a smashing win over Notre Dame last month.

Wooden admitted after the Oregon defeat that he was to blame. "I made some changes in our offense the past week to give us more movement," he said. "I thought it would make us sharper but instead it made us hesitant. Maybe, in retrospect, I made a mistake."

In both games, the Bruins faced man-to-man defenses that double-teamed Walton, shut off the driving lanes for Forward Keith Wilkes and generally made life miserable for playmaking Guards Tommy Curtis and Greg Lee. They tried to feed Walton inside but when Walton ran into congestion, he had to return the ball outside, where his teammates usually were standing around instead of maneuvering to get open. Result: those turnovers—most of them by Walton—that limited UCLA to astonishingly few shots (45 against OSU, 47 against Oregon) and forced the NCAA champs to play catch-up against teams that froze the ball near the finish to keep the games out of reach.

In Corvallis such tactics almost cost Oregon State the victory. State went into a 57-50 lead and then with three minutes remaining, attempted to hand the game to UCLA by taking some bad shots. With 33 seconds to go it was 57-56, but OSU freshman Guard George Tucker put in four trembling free throws in the final 25 seconds, and Oregon State was safe, 61-57. "If I could have found a place to go that last couple of minutes," said Coach Ralph Miller, "I'd have gone."

John Wooden was more upset than after the loss to Notre Dame that ended UCLA's 88-game winning streak. "We're certainly not No. 1," he said. "Not the way we're playing. I wasn't concerned about it last week. I am now."

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