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Greatest College Basketball Teams:  Spotlight 1964 UCLA

The 1964 UCLA Bruins basketball team went 30-0 and won the first of Hall of Fame coach John Wooden's ten National Championships.  The Bruins did it without a single starter over 6'5'.  'In retrospect,' point guard Walt Hazzard said, 'it was the team that epitomized Wooden's brilliance.  He took the strengths of his individual players and adjusted his system to maximize those abilities.'

In his first 15 years at UCLA, John Wooden did not win a National Championship.  In the 12 years starting in 1964, he won 10.  'I never wanted to win one as badly as I wanted to win that first one,' Wooden said.

'I would suspect that every coach who has won a national championship would agree that the first one is extremely important,' Wooden said.   'Recruiting after that 1964 national championship was tremendous.   Lew Alcindor would never have come to UCLA had we not won it in 1964 and 1965.'

The key to UCLA's success in 1964 and thereafter was the 2-2-1 zone pressure defense.  Remembering the 1964 season, Tex Winter, head coach of Kansas State that year, said 'UCLA had that devastating press that all the teams in the country feared so much.'  Denny Crum, an assistant coach for the 1964 Bruins and later head coach at Louisville, said 'That team didn't have the size, but they were relentless with the zone press, which was relatively new to college teams.  They might be down 15 points and, all of the sudden, boom, they'd be right back in the game and just beat you with their quickness.' 

'[The 1964 team] was one of the best pressing teams we ever had, and certainly one of the best I have ever seen,' Bruins head coach John Wooden said.  'In many games that year we would be behind early, but our press would almost always take effect sooner or later.' 
The pressure defense led to lots of turnovers and fast-break points, especially by guards Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich.  'I never had a better man on the fast break than Walt Hazzard,' coach Wooden later said.

Senior point guard Walt Hazzard averaged 18.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, but his spectacular ball-handling and passing is what really made him stand out.  'I called him into my office one day,' Wooden said, 'and asked him to pattern himself after Oscar Robertson, who looks for the pass first and the shot second.  I told him his passing could make him an All-American.'  Wooden was right.  Walt Hazzard was not only named All-American in 1964, but National Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. 

Hazzard described himself as 'the playmaker and offensive quarterback.'  'I knew I could have been the leading scorer,' Hazzard said, 'but Gail Goodrich was a great scorer.'  Despite all the talk about passing instead of scoring, Hazzard ended his career as UCLA's all-time leading scorer, with 1,401 points. 

After the season, Hazzard earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, which won the 1964 gold medal.  Hazzard was the third overall pick in the first round of the 1964 NBA Draft.   During his 10-year NBA career, Hazzard averaged 12.6 points, 3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
From 1984-1988, Walt Hazzard came back to UCLA as head coach.  During his four years at the helm, UCLA went 77-47.

The other talented UCLA guard in 1964 was left-handed junior Gail Goodrich (21.5 pts., 5.2 reb.).  Goodrich was a tremendous offensive player.  In 1965, Goodrich followed in Walt Hazzard's footsteps.  He was an All-American and Co-Player of the Year (with Princeton's Bill Bradley), and he broke Hazzard's UCLA career scoring record, finishing his career with 1,690 points.

Goodrich was the number one overall pick in the 1965 NBA Draft.  During his 14-year NBA career, Goodrich averaged 18.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists.  Goodrich was a five-time NBA All-Star and is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Senior forward Jack Hirsch (14 pts., 7.5 reb.), was a solid scorer and the team's best defensive player. 'Jack was our top defender, always assigned to the other team's top scorer,' Walt Hazzard said.

The other starting forward, junior Keith Erickson (10.7 pts., 9.1 reb.), was a world class volleyball player.  Erickson was the last man back on the UCLA press.  He used his leaping ability and quickness to intercept passes that opponents tried to get over his pressing teammates.

'Keith Erickson was a great athlete,' Wooden said.  'I've coached better basketball players, but never a better athlete.  'He was just tremendous at playing that number five position in the press,' Wooden said.  'I've never seen anyone come close to being his equal.'

Despite being a fourth round draft pick in 1965, Erickson went on to a 12-year career in the NBA.  He averaged 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Senior center Fred Slaughter (7.9 pts., 8.1 reb.) was a high school track star.  On offense, he played the high post, clearing the lane for his teammates to drive to the basket.

The starting five were supported by two sophomores off the bench:  Kenny Washington (6.1 pts., 4.2 reb.) and Doug McIntosh (3.6 pts., 4.4 reb.).
UCLA had a been a solid team for years, but nobody thought the undersized Bruins were the best team in the nation at the start of the 1963-64 season.  The Bruins started the season ranked #11. 

UCLA won their first two games easily, beating BYU 113-71 and Butler 80-65.  Afterwards they traveled to Kansas to play Kansas State and Kansas.  The Bruins won a close one against K-State, 78-75, and blew out Kansas, 74-54. 

When they returned to California, the Bruins had moved up to #6 in the nation.  After three more easy victories, the Bruins were ranked #4 and headed for a showdown with #3 ranked Michigan and their star guard Cazzie Russell.  UCLA destroyed the Wolverines, 98-80.  'That was the greatest game I've ever seen my team play,' Wooden said after the game.

After the Michigan game, the Bruins kept on winning, ending the regular season at a perfect 26-0.  The Bruins entered the NCAA tournament ranked #1 in the nation. 

In the first round, UCLA beat Seattle, 95-90.  The Bruins were led by Hazzard's 26 points.  Hirsch added 21 and Goodrich 19.

In the second round, UCLA faced San Francisco.  The Dons led 36-28 at halftime, but the Bruins came back and won 76-72.  Hazzard led the Bruins with 23 points.  Goodrich added 15 and Hirsch 14.

The Final Four was played in Kansas City.  The Bruins' first opponent was Kansas State, who they'd narrowly defeated early in the season.  UCLA led 43-41 at halftime, but the Wildcats came back and led 75-70 with just 7:28 remaining. 

Tex Winter, Kansas State's coach, recalled what happened next.  'The UCLA cheerleaders (those beautiful California gals in those short skirts that people in the Midwest weren't used to seeing) were delayed getting to the game for some reason.  Late in the ballgame, while UCLA was still down, these cheerleaders came storming in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium.' 

After the cheerleaders arrived, the UCLA press kicked into gear and the Bruins scored 11 unanswered points in less than three minutes.  The Bruins coasted to a 90-84 win.  Keith Erickson scored 28 points and Walt Hazzard scored 19 for the Bruins.

After the game, Wooden said 'Lately we have not been going well, but somehow we keep our poise and get out of the jams we get ourselves into.  Now we have to do it one more time.' 

In the NCAA Championship game, UCLA faced off against #3 Duke.  Duke had two 6'10' starters:  Bill Buckley (13.8 pts., 9 reb.) and Hack Tison (11.8 pts., 7.6 reb.).  Duke also had one of the best players in the country, 6'4' swingman Jeff Mullins (24.2 pts., 8.9 reb.).  Early in the game, the Blue Devils were able to pass over the UCLA press and use their size advantage to take a 30-27 lead with 7:14 left in the first half.  Then, suddenly, the UCLA press started working.  Duke turned the ball over possession after possession.  In just two and a half minutes, UCLA scored 16 unanswered points to take a 43-30 lead.  At the half, the Bruins led 50-38.

'They led us early,' coach Wooden later said of the game, 'but it only took us two or three minutes to catch up, and we had a 12-point lead at the half.  But the lead wasn't the thing.  It was the look they had on their faces.  They looked whipped.'

Duke was whipped.  UCLA coasted to a 98-83 victory.  Not only did the UCLA press cause 29 Duke turnovers, but the tiny Bruins out-rebounded Duke 43-35.  Gail Goodrich scored 27 points for the Bruins, but the star of the night was bench player Kenny Washington, who poured in 26 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.

Gail Goodrich and Walt Hazzard were named to the All-NCAA Tournament Team, and Hazzard was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.

Name               Pos Class   Pts     Reb
Gail Goodrich       G    JR    21.5    5.2
Walt Hazzard        G    SR    18.6    4.7
Jack Hirsch         F    SR    14.0    7.6
Keith Erickson      F    JR    10.7    9.1
Fred Slaughter      C    SR     7.9    8.1
Kenny Washington   G/F   SO     6.1    4.2
Doug McIntosh      F/C   SO     3.6    4.4
Kim Stewart         F    SR     2.2    2.0
Mike Huggins        G    SR     1.6    1.0
Chuck Darrow        G    SO     1.6    1.2

How would the 1964 UCLA Bruins do against the teams of today?  How would they handle the shot clock and the three pointer?

The UCLA Bruins were undersized in 1964 and would be even more undersized today.  In addition, today's teams are probably more capable of breaking the press than the teams of 1964.  That said, the Bruins ran the press better than anyone.  They forced a lot of turnovers and they got a lot of quick baskets in transition.  That kind of defense negated the Bruins' size disadvantage in 1964 and might negate it today.  Given their run and gun style, the shot clock certainly wouldn't be a problem for the 1964 Bruins.  Goodrich and Hazzard were both excellent outside shooters, and would have scored even more points with the three-pointer.  So, who knows?

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