In March of 1971 in the Astrodome in Houston UCLA 28-1 still coached by John Wooden met the Villanova Wildcats 27-6 to determine the NCAA tournament champion.
Ranked #19 in the final AP poll, Villanovacoached by Jack Kraft had bested St. Joseph’s 93-75, Fordham 85-75, Penn 90-47 and in double overtime Western Kentucky 92-89. The Hilltoppershad defeated both Ohio State in overtime and Kentucky, to earn the right to play in the final four.
So it was an underdog Villanova team that faced the defending champion Bruins, ranked #1 in the AP poll.
UCLA had defeated BYU 91-73, Long Beach State 57-55 in which the Bruins were behind 31-27 at halftime and Kansas 68-60 to face Villanova. They were led by forwards Sidney Wicks21.3 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game, Curtis Rowe 12.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, center Steve Patterson 13.0 ppg and guard Henry Bibby 11.8 ppg all of whomhad played in the previous year’s winning title game.
Villanova was led by Howard Porter 23.5 ppg, 14.8 rpg, Hank Siemontkowski 15.1 ppg, Chris Ford 13.8 ppg, (later an NBA player and coach), Tom Ingelsby 13.3 ppg and Clarence Smith 13.0 ppg.
1971 was one of the first tournaments to have several close games determined at the buzzer which would later characterize the tournament as March Madness.
This game was the closest of the five consecutive finals UCLA had been in as they built a 45-37 halftime lead only to have the Wildcats climb back into the game outscoring UCLA 25-23 in the second half with UCLA prevailing for their fifth consecutive title.
Howard Porter led Villanova with 25 points and was awarded the most outstanding player award. Siemontkowski added 19 points while Steve Patterson had 29 and Henry Bibby 17 as the two star forwards Wicks and Rowe were held to only three and seven field goal attempts each.
UCLA had a better field goal percentage than Villanova, 27-49/51.1% to 26-62/ 41.9% and got to the foul line oftener where the Bruins made 14 of 18 attempts while the Wildcats were 10 of 13. UCLA had more rebounds 29 to 27 and turnovers 13 to 10.
The real difference was however Wooden’s preparation, attention to detail and the discipline of his players.
UCLA returned the following year, ushering in the Bill Walton era, for their sixth consecutive title game while Villanova returned in 1985 to win their first NCAA basketball title.
Because Villanova’s Howard Porter and Western Kentucky’s Jim McDaniels both signed with sports agents before the NCAA tournament, Villanova and Western Kentucky had to forfeit all of their NCAA tournament games.
To place in perspective Wooden’s ten NCAA titles, the coach next to him, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has five.
Ron Griffitts a contributing columnist for the Daily Advocate