The 1968 NCAA final would feature two storied programs led by two future hall of fame coaches in the defending champion Bruins 29-1 coached by John Wooden and the Tar Heels of North Carolina 28-3 coached by Dean Smith appearing in his first NCAA final.
North Carolina had defeated Ohio State 80-66 in the final four semifinal still coached by Fred Taylor and led by Dayton native Bill Hosket ofBelmont High School who led the Buckeyes with 20.1 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
North Carolina was led by Larry Miller 22.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, Charlie Scott 17.6 ppg and Rusty Clark 15.8 ppg, 11.0 rpg.
The Bruins returned basically the same team as the year before with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading with 26.2 ppg, 16.5 rpg, Lucius Allen 15.1 ppg, Mike Warren 12.1 ppg and Lynn Shakelford 10.7 ppg.
They had a relatively easy time getting to the final, defeating Santa Clara 87-66 and New Mexico State 58-49 before defeating Houston 101-69 which evened the score as Houston had defeated the Bruins in January in a specially arranged game in the Astrodome 71-69.
Houston was led by Elvin Hayes 36.8 ppg, 18.9 RPG and the Cougars held the number one AP rating at the end of the regular season. Many thought that semifinal game between UCLA and Houston was in effect the championship game.
The January game was termed “The Game of the Century” and the one fans most remember from that year. The idea was thought up by Houston coach Guy Lewis and played on January 20, 1968 before over 52,000 fans at the Astrodome in Houston.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elvin Hayes were the greatest collegiate stars of their day.
I remember that game as I was a student at Wright State and it had snowed that day and we got home just before the game started. The game was close and two free throws in the last seconds of the game by Elvin Hayes secured the Cougars’ 71-69 victory.
The NCAA final was played in March in the L. A. Sports Arena in Los Angeles and was dominated from the beginning by UCLA as they outscored NC 32-22 in the first half and 46-33 in the second for a 78-55 win.
The Tar Heels made only 22 of 63 field goalattempts for 34.9% while UCLA made 31 of 60 for a 51.7%. Abdul-Jabbar led UCLA with 34 points, 16 reboundswhile Lucius Allen added 11 points
Larry Miller led North Carolina with 14 points and Charlie Scott had 12. For coach Dean Smith it was his second final four in his seventh season out of the 36 he would spend at Chapel Hill coaching the Tar Heels. He finished his career with an 879-254 record, a .776 winning percentage, two NCAA titles and nine final four appearances.
UCLA returned the next year for the third of their seven consecutive NCAA titles.
Ron Griffitts a contributing columnist for the Daily Advocate