It was at that point that he decided to give his program a thorough review. As he would later say: "Failure is not fatal. Failure to change might be."
Through 1961 and '62, Wooden also began listening more to his prized assistant. Jerry Norman felt the small, quick UCLA teams could benefit from running the zone press, which meant pressuring opponents the entire length of the floor instead of falling back and defending the basket.
At the same time, Norman brought new passion to recruiting. Whereas Wooden had been content to pick from among local high school and junior college prospects, his assistant went after the best players nationwide.
One more thing occurred to nudge UCLA to the next level. In 1963, J.D. Morgan became athletic director and quickly assumed many of Wooden's duties. With Morgan handling scholarship issues, scheduling and travel, the coach could focus on what he did best.
The pieces were starting to fall into place for a championship run.
The UCLA team of 1963-64 had no one taller than 6 feet 5 in the starting lineup, but compensated for lack of size with veteran leadership and great quickness. Experts who did not consider the team a serious contender soon changed their minds.
The so-called Bruin Blitz -- Norman's zone press -- smothered opponents and allowed guards Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich to score in bunches. UCLA took over the No. 1 spot in the polls at midseason and stormed into the NCAA tournament undefeated. In the first half of the championship game against Duke, the Bruins went on a 16-0 run to pull away for a 98-83 victory.
The winning continued into the next season, although Hazzard was off to the NBA. The team lost only twice during the regular season with forward Keith Erickson picking up the slack and Goodrich continuing his stellar play. The senior guard had 42 points against a stronger, but slower, Michigan team in leading UCLA to a 91-80 victory in the NCAA title game.
Bruin star power
Those first two championships had been won with strategy and fundamentals, a high-post offense running like clockwork. After a mediocre season in 1965-66, Wooden and his Bruins would resume their historic streak with something else: star power.
The winter of 1966 brought Lewis Alcindor -- who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- to the starting lineup. Alcindor actually had enrolled the previous year, recruited from Power Memorial High School in New York City. But he had to wait a season because at that time NCAA rules did not allow freshmen to play on the varsity team.
Once the 7-foot-plus center became eligible, Wooden again showed a willingness to adapt, shifting to a low-post offense that accentuated the big man's skills.
Alcindor dominated the game over the next three seasons, with the team playing in brand-new Pauley Pavilion. Not even a controversial rule change -- college basketball outlawed the dunk in a move thought to be aimed directly at Alcindor -- could faze him. In all, he led the Bruins to an 88-2 record and three straight titles.
Even with historic success, those years were not idyllic. Wooden, the ultimate conformist, was coaching at a time of great social upheaval.
Though UCLA players would always be conservative in appearance -- continually warned about the length of their sideburns -- they sometimes bristled at the coach's mandates. Alcindor spoke openly of his unhappiness at Westwood and at one point nearly transferred. On the court, there was constant pressure to be perfect.
Wooden seemed almost relieved when Alcindor graduated, if only because expectations eased.
"It will be fun coaching to win again, rather than coaching to try to keep from losing," he was quoted as saying in "The Wizard of Westwood."
The Bruins returned to the high-post, high-energy offense their coach had always favored. Led by young guard Henry Bibby and forwards Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks, they pushed their championship streak to five in a row with titles in 1969-70 and 1970-71. The stage was set for another dominant player.