UCLA's Walton burned Memphis for 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting in '73 national title game
SAN ANTONIO -- John Wooden called a time-out 35 years ago in the NCAA championship game against Memphis, bringing his UCLA Bruins to the bench.
Bill Walton was going off against the Tigers, piling up points inside as fast as the seconds ticked off the clock on March 26, 1973, in St. Louis.
"One of my guards said, 'Let's try something else," Wooden told The Associated Press this week.
The bespectacled coaching great looked around the huddle and told the Bruins, "Why? If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
They didn't, and continued to get the ball into Walton's hands easily. UCLA won 87-66 for its unprecedented seventh consecutive title under Wooden, who won 10 in all before retiring in 1975.
The current Bruins, led by freshman phenom Kevin Love, play Memphis in Saturday's national semifinal game at the Alamodome. These Tigers are two-point favorites.
Thirty-five years ago, Walton, forwards Jamaal Wilkes and Larry Farmer and guards Greg Lee and Larry Hollyfield helped the Bruins complete their second straight 30-0 season, the only school to compile back-to-back perfect seasons.
"The first half, it was a great game. We were tied, and we played very well," recalled Gene Bartow, who coached the school then known as Memphis State. "I thought we were in position in the second half to make a good run, but Bill had such a super night and UCLA was UCLA."
Walton turned in the tournament's third-highest scoring performance, hitting 21 of 22 shots for 44 points, including two free throws. His field-goal percentage of 95.5 remains the best in the tournament's 69-year history.
"I've teased Bill a lot about that," Wooden said. "It's remarkable. Most were easy. We were able to get the ball into him. He could turn either way. He was very good on hook shots."
Walton also grabbed 13 rebounds to help the Bruins control the boards, 40-21; it was the Tigers' lowest total in 16 years.
The junior center scored on nearly every possession in the second half, using the glass to bank in mid-range jumpers in the years before the 3-point line and shot clock existed. He was so dominant, the other players nearly melted into the background, with Walton only needing his teammates to inbound the ball so he could do the rest.
The Tigers closed the first half on an 8-2 run to tie it at 39.
"We mixed our defenses, but we had people in foul trouble early in the second half," Bartow told the AP. "Our big men had three, four fouls on them very early, and we had to be very soft with our defense. Bill was very active and had high energy."
Walton's points remain a single-game record by a Tigers' opponent.
Larry Finch led Memphis with 29 points, and Larry Kenon added 20 while guarding Walton. Kenon and UCLA's Hollyfield got technical fouls.
"He really did very well shooting," Finch's attorney Ted Hansom said. "He was just overshadowed by what Walton did because that was just unheard of for someone to shoot that kind of percentage."
Finch helped Walton off the court near the end of the game after the All-American sprained his ankle. Asked why, Finch told a newspaper in 2007, "Because he was kicking our (butt)."
That Tigers' roster included more black players than any team in school history, notable because Memphis was a racially divided city still reeling from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot 40 years ago Friday.
That season put Memphis State on the national basketball map, with the Tigers earning their first NCAA bid since 1962.
"I was pleased and proud of that team," Bartow said. "I'd been a high school coach 15 years earlier and never dreamed I might be playing against John Wooden's Bruins for the championship. It was a special night. It still is probably the highlight of my coaching career, even though we got beat."
It would be another 33 years before the Tigers and Bruins met again in the tournament. UCLA won 50-45 in a 2006 regional final and went on to lose to Florida in the championship game.
Bartow works for the Memphis Grizzlies and will be "sitting very calmly" in the Alamodome on Saturday night. He succeeded Wooden at UCLA, a thankless task that lasted two seasons.
"But I have to admit I'm a Memphis fan these days," Bartow said. "I also like UCLA. If the Bruins should beat Memphis, I'll be for them in the championship game."
Wooden, who attended several UCLA games this season at 97, planned to watch on TV from his Los Angeles home.
Now 57, Finch is confined to a wheelchair after a heart attack and a series of strokes. He coached the Tigers in the late '80s and early '90s, and their practice facility is named for him. Kenon works at a San Antonio car dealership and didn't immediately return a phone call for comment.
Walton is hurting, with a pinched nerve in his back and a sore hip that have kept him away from his TV analyst's job for more than a month.
"Sadly, I am down and out ... and unable to deliver," he e-mailed the AP in explaining why he didn't feel up to commenting.
Love, whose big man's game reminds many UCLA fans of Walton, has watched a tape of the '73 game, calling it "very special."
Wooden said it's unlikely anyone will duplicate Walton's incredible effort, although if someone did, he believes it would be a post player.
"They're closer to the basket, and sometimes they're going to get easy shots," he said.
Love's best shooting performance this season was a 10-for-10 overall effort in a rout of Western Illinois.
"Don't expect 21 of 22 out of me," he said. "That's a little much."
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Memphis, Tenn., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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