Louisville’s Terry Howard hadn’t missed a free throw in all 28 of his attempts in the 1975 season.
When he took to the line in the Final Four (and yes, it was the first official “Final Four” as the phrase was first penned by sportswriter Ed Chay in ‘75) with a 74-73 lead against UCLA with 20 seconds remaining in overtime, it looked like the Cardinals were going to be the next team in line to knock the Bruins out of their own dynasty era.
There was an immediate shock when Howard missed the front end of a one-and-one. UCLA grabbed the rebound, brought the ball across half-court and took a time out with 13 seconds remaining.
The “Wizard of Westwood” had a final chance to go into his bag of tricks and draw up one last play to get the Bruins back into another championship game – the 11th in the past 12 seasons.
The inbounds pass came in to Andre McCarter, he got the ball over to the opposite wing and eventually to Marques Johnson. Johnson saw Richard Washington cutting toward the block and fed him the ball just outside the key.
Washington turned around a hit a short jumper from about eight feet out and UCLA took the lead.
Or, maybe, not really?
Washington had hit his last six attempts in that game, it might not have taken a legend to know to get the ball to him in that situation.
This fit in perfectly with the John Wooden, "pyramid of success," which stressed the beauty in simplicity.
"I'm no wizard, and I don't like being thought of in that light at all," Wooden said in a interview conducted by UCLA in 2006.
"I think of a wizard as being some sort of magician or something, doing something on the sly or something, and I don't want to be thought of in that way.”
Louisville had to go the length of the floor in just two seconds and the Cardinals’ Allen Murphy mishandled the inbounds pass, heaved up a prayer and UCLA was back in another championship.
It was a stunner. Not because anybody was surprised that UCLA made it to the finals again. Maybe because Louisville’s three leading scorers, Junior Bridgeman, Ricky Gallo and Phillip Bond combined to shoot less than 25 percent from the floor.
But the real shock came after the game, when Wooden announced to the media that the 1975 final would be his last, and he would retire from coaching -- an announcement that was met with a roaring applause from members of the media trained to keep their opinions to themselves.
MARCH 31, 1975
“I had a sick feeling,” Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall told John Clay of the the Lexington Herald-Leader in 2010 when he recalled the day in 1975 when he realized he would be John Wooden’s final opponent.
He could help but shake the feeling that not only would he be Wooden’s final opponent, but also his final victim.
“I knew right then that would be a big influence on the game,” Hall told Clay.
Hall was not far off and on that day, the sea was, in fact, quite angry.
Dave Meyers had 24 points and 10 rebounds, while 7-foot-1 junior and future NABC All-Star Ralph Drollinger also picked up a double-double scoring 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
The Bruins had won the game 92-85, giving Wooden his 10th championship in 12 seasons and an exclamation point on an already legendary career.
The thing that was special about the 1975 team was that it didn’t have the same exact star power that the other UCLA championship teams had. Washington had developed into a leader, but he couldn’t hold a candle to Lew Alcindor or Bill Walton.
Nobody has come close to touching Wooden's record of 10 national championships.
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is the only active coach with more than two national titles and he sits at four, tied at No. 2 on the list with former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.
A good comparison to the 1975 UCLA team is the 2009-10 NCAA champion Duke team. They didn't have a tremendous amount of star-power, but there were plenty of good role players and a big-man (Brian Zoubek) who stepped up in a big way to get his team a title.
Coach Wooden passed away almost two months to the day after the 2010 national championship.
In the second week of February 2015, we mourn the loss of two other college basketball coaching legends as the 40th anniversary of coach Wooden's final game draws near.
Consider the Wooden era to be part of the first generation of modern day coaching legends, it's interesting to see Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian as part of that second generation. Predecessors to the Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim or Rick Pitino generation, who have then spawned the Billy Donovan or Tom Izzo or generation.
As the old guard passes by, the new generation grows larger and a pyramid -- of (... legends? greatness? success?) -- is formed.