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Greatest College Basketball Teams:  Spotlight 1972 UCLA

The UCLA Bruins came into the 1972 season having won five consecutive NCAA Championships.  The 1972 UCLA Bruins basketball team went 30-0 and won a sixth straight NCAA Championship in dominating fashion.  The 1972 team still holds UCLA records for averaging 94.6 points per game and beating opponents by an average of 30.3 points per game.  The 30.3 points per game scoring margin average is an NCAA record as well.  The undefeated 1972 season fell in the middle of an 88-game UCLA winning streak; another NCAA record.  The Bruins crushed teams with a fast break offense and zone press defense.

The Bruins were ranked number one from the beginning of the 1972 season to the end.  In addition to the best coach in the history of college basketball, John Wooden, they had three awesome sophomore starters (at that time, freshmen were ineligible to play varsity basketball).
Bill Walton, a 6'11" red-headed emotional center from San Diego, dominated inside.  He averaged 21.1 points and 15.5 rebounds per game.  The following year, Walton averaged 16.9 rebounds per game, still a UCLA record.  Walton also holds the career UCLA rebounding record, even though he only played three years.   Not only could he score and rebound, Walton was an excellent passer for a big man.  Walton was named an All American for the first of three straight years in 1972.  He was named the NCAA player of the year by UPI and AP in 1972.  He was awarded the USBWA trophy (now the Oscar Robertson trophy), the Naismith Award and the Adoph Rupp trophy in 1972.  In short, he won every award there was to win in 1972.  Walton didn't just excel on the court.  He was also an Academic All American in 1972, 1973 and 1974.

Although just a sophomore in 1972, Walton's outgoing personality and support of his teammates caused the team to be called the 'Walton Gang.'  UCLA coach John Wooden said 'Walton fostered a spirit of togetherness that helped build an unusual team spirit.'  UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan said "This has been the most compatible team we've had since I've been here, largely because of Bill's personality and unselfish attitude towards his teammates."

Forward Keith Wilkes (who later changed his name to Jaamal in the NBA) was nicknamed "Silk" for his smooth play.  Wilkes averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds for UCLA in 1972.  He could score inside an outside.  He had such a nice jump shot, that one writer called it "the 20-foot layup."  Wilkes was an Academic All American in 1972, 1973 and 1974.  He was not an All American in 1972, but he was in 1973 and 1974.  When John Wooden was asked to describe his ideal player, he said "I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter.  Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that." 

Greg Lee was the perfect point guard.  An Academic All American in 1972, 1973 and 1974, he was very smart.  Although out of control at times, Lee fed Walton and Wilkes the lob pass, played tenacious defense, had a good outside shot and was an excellent free throw shooter.

The team captain was senior shooting guard Henry Bibby.  Bibby was an All American in 1972.  A great outside shooter, Bibby was the second leading scorer for the 1972 Bruins, averaging 15.7 points per game.

Swen Nater, a reserve center, may be the only first round NBA draft pick who never started a college game.  Nater never even tried out for a basketball team until his junior year of high school.  When he did try out, he didn't make it.   Nater tried out again as a freshman at Cypress Community College in Orange County, California.  He made the team, but barely played his freshman year.  Through hard work and dedication, Nater improved his skills dramatically.  His sophomore year he was named a Community College All American and given a scholarship to UCLA.  The Bruins never lost a game during the two years Nater played.  Although Nater had limited playing time, Bill Walton claimed Nater was 'the best center I played against all year.'  Nater was ABA rookie of the year in 1974.

The 1972 Bruins didn't waste any time asserting their dominance.  They scored over 100 points in each of their first eight contests.  Then they beat number 6 Ohio State 79-53.  The Bruins opened conference play at Oregon State and escaped with a six-point victory, but won the remainder of their conference and non-conference games by large margins.

After easily beating Weber State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, UCLA faced number five Cal State Long Beach.  The Bruins won handily behind a 23-point effort by Henry Bibby.  Walton poured in 19 and Wilkes 14.

The Final Four was played in the Los Angeles Sports Arena in UCLA's home town.  In the semifinal against number four Louisville, Bill Walton scored 33 points and brought down 22 rebounds.  UCLA crushed Louisville 96-77.  In the championship game, UCLA jumped out to a 50-39 lead in the first half, but number ten Florida State battled back.  Ultimately, UCLA won 81-76.  Walton and Wilkes were named to the All-Tournament team and Walton was named the Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. 

When Walton was asked how he felt about all the media attention he received after winning the NCAA Championship as a sophomore, he shook his head and said, 'I'm just starting in sports and already I'm being called a superstar.  It's just not right.  I don't like it when everyone wants to interview me and no one pays any attention to my teammates.  Without them, I'd be nothing.  This is a team game, and I'm just one of the guys on our team.'

Name                  Pos     Class    Pts    Reb
Bill Walton            C       SO     21.1   15.5
Henry Bibby            G       SR     15.7    3.5
Keith Wilkes           F       SO     13.5    8.2
Larry Farmer           F       JR     10.7    5.5
Greg Lee               G       SO      8.7    2.0
Larry Hollyfield       F       JR      7.3    3.3
Swen Nater            F/C      JR      6.7    4.8
Tommy Curtis           G       SO      4.1    2.1
Andy Hill              G       SR      2.7    0.8
Vince Carson          F/C      SO      2.4    2.6

How would the 1972 UCLA Bruins do against the teams of today?  How would they handle the shot clock and the three pointer?

The 1972 Bruins would likely give the teams of today as much trouble as they gave the teams of 1972.  Jamaal Wilkes and, before he was injured, Bill Walton, were both outstanding NBA players.  Walton was an All-Star and the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1978.  Wilkes was a three-time NBA All-Star.  The 1972 UCLA team had a pressing, run and gun style.  The shot clock wouldn't have any effect on the Bruins.  As for the three-pointer, Henry Bibby was a great outside shooter who frequently took shots that would be behind the three-point arc today.  Lee and Wilkes were also good shooters who could hit the outside shot. 

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