The day the Bruins finally got floored
It was truly the end of the UCLA basketball dynasty.
On March 17, 1977, Idaho State upset the second-ranked Bruins, 76-75, in the second round of the NCAA West Regional in Provo, Utah. Steve Hayes, the Bengals’ 7-foot center, had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Jeff Cook, a 6-10 forward, had 14 rebounds and eight points. The loss ended UCLA’s run of 10 consecutive Final Fours
“They were just better than us,” recalled UCLA forward Marques Johnson, who had 21 points -- 19 in the first half before the Bengals switched to a box-and-one defense.
Today, eighth-ranked UCLA plays Idaho State at Pauley Pavilion in the fourth meeting between the teams. The Bruins have won twice, but it is the first game the teams played in the 1977 NCAA tournament that was dynasty-ending.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland remembers watching the game. He was a sophomore at Santa Barbara City College and his team was playing in the state tournament in Fresno.
“We all rooted for UCLA,” Howland said. “And we couldn’t believe Idaho State was going to win, a small Big Sky school against the almighty Bruins.”
Coming into the 1977 NCAA tournament, UCLA was ranked second in the country under the guidance of second-year coach Gene Bartow, who had replaced John Wooden and lost to Bobby Knight’s Indiana in the 1976 national semifinals. The heavily favored Bruins had won the Pacific 8 Conference and were eagerly anticipating a West Regional final against Nevada Las Vegas, expecting to make their 11th consecutive Final Four.
But the team from Pocatello stunned the Bruins. “I don’t think anybody gave us a chance to beat them,” Hayes said. “For all of us growing up, all we had ever seen was UCLA win every year.”
Cook, who grew up in West Covina as a UCLA fan and played eight years in the NBA, said his parents drove from Southern California to Provo for the game and made a stop in Las Vegas.
Cook’s mother wanted to put down a $2 bet on Idaho State to win -- without taking the points.
Howland and Cook believe that in this college basketball landscape of the best players spending only a year or two in college and the best coaches often lured away with NBA money, that there will never be another team to appear in 10 straight Final Fours.
“I never expect that in my lifetime,” Howland said.
“It won’t happen again,” Cook said. “Most of the guys, the good guys, are only parking themselves in college for one or two years. Plus, the coaches aren’t going to stay at a program long enough to build the tradition. You’re not going to get the Woodens, the Dean Smiths.”
Johnson said the Idaho State loss was the final chip out of the UCLA invincibility veneer. “We had lost the year before to Indiana in the Final Four,” Johnson said. “And after the Idaho State game I realized something: Idaho State just had a really good team. They believed they could beat us because they were good.”
Four of Coach Jim Killingsworth’s starters -- Hayes, Cook, Greg Griffin and Ed Thompson -- were NBA draft picks. “Things were changing in college basketball,” Johnson said. “There were more good players everywhere.”
Cook said the Bengals were a hard team to match up with.
“Steve Hayes had an awkward shot to guard, a sky hook he extended. Nobody could block it,” Cook said. “He could get 20 points any night. Greg Griffin was a 6-7 left-hander, could run like the wind. Eddie Thompson was a 6-5 point guard, unheard of then. We had a kid from Montana, Brand Robinson, a Parade All-American who could shoot from any place in the gym. If there had been a three-point line he would have led the nation in scoring.
“If you tried to zone and collapse on Steve, we’d get the ball to Brand. I was the role player. If Steve was getting banged on, I got the ball.”
Johnson said the Bruins, after beating Louisville in the first round of the tournament, were primed to meet highly regarded UNLV for the Final Four berth. The Running Rebels beat Utah in the first game in Provo and then beat Idaho State in the regional final.
“We were looking ahead,” said Johnson, who that season was the first winner of the Wooden Award. “UNLV had a lot of guys from Los Angeles. Lewis Brown, who played at Verbum Dei. Robert Smith, who played at Crenshaw. We were already talking trash through mutual girlfriends and that was the attitude going in.
“Idaho State? We didn’t know a whole lot about them. They were never on TV. But things were changing.”
Bartow never coached another game for UCLA, leaving to begin the program at Alabama Birmingham. Killingsworth coached one more for Idaho State. After the Bengals lost to UNLV, 107-90, he left to coach at Oklahoma State.
After winning 10 NCAA titles in 12 years between 1964 and 1975, UCLA didn’t win another until 1995.
There were only two Final Four appearances from 1976 until 2006. Now UCLA has been back twice in row. Another streak has started.
vs. Idaho State, 5 p.m., FSN West
Site -- Pauley Pavilion.
Radio -- 570.
Records -- UCLA 8-1, Idaho State 2-6.
Update -- This is UCLA’s first game back at Pauley Pavilion since Texas ended the Bruins’ 25-game home winning streak. Guard Matt Stucki, a 6-6 junior, averages 12.6 points and is the only Bengals player averaging in double figures. Idaho State is scoring only 59.2 points a game while giving up 72.1. Howland said he expects Coach Joe O’Brien’s team to use a zone defense. Bruins forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is coming off his two best games of the season. The junior forward scored 21 points and had eight rebounds in UCLA’s comeback win over Davidson last week and 14 points and seven rebounds in the loss to Texas.
Idaho State vs. No. 8 UCLA
at Pauley Pavilion, 5 p.m., FSNW