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Hayes stood tallest in battle of big men
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 20, 1999
It was the clash of the titans, and not simply the nation's No. 1 vs. No. 2 college basketball teams. It was also a confrontation between No. 33 and No. 44 -- Lew Alcindor of the top-ranked UCLA Bruins vs. Elvin Hayes of the Houston Cougars.
Fittingly, it was staged in America's largest indoor sports palace, the Astrodome in Houston.
Naturally, the game, on Jan. 20, 1968, drew the largest crowd -- 52,693 -- in the history of basketball, college or professional.
Appropriately, it was Hayes' two free throws with 28 seconds remaining, the final two points, that broke a tie and gave Houston the 71-69 victory. It shattered the myth of the Bruins' invincibility by ending their 47-game winning streak, then the second-longest to San Francisco's 60 in a row 12 years earlier.
After Hayes' free throws, the Bruins had an opportunity to pull into another tie or perhaps take the lead. But they lost the ball out of bounds, Houston took possession and ran out the final 12 seconds.
As the clock showed 00:00, the rabid Cougars fans and the team's cheerleaders swarmed onto the court, lifted Hayes and his teammates onto their shoulders and paraded them around, chanting, We're No. 1!
"Houston played a tremendous game," UCLA coach John Wooden said. "We'll just have to start over again."
Several years later UCLA did, embarking on a winning streak that reached 88 games.
The Cougars won by doing to UCLA what UCLA had done to the rest of the nation. They rode to victory on the shooting of their star player, unleashing an unrelenting defense and keeping cool in the face of the Bruins' press.
The 6-foot-9 Hayes in particular was at the top of his game. He made 17 of 25 shots, scored 39 points and added 15 rebounds. He also helped to contain Alcindor, blocking three of his shots and twice stealing the ball from the towering UCLA center. And Hayes played the final 11 minutes with four fouls.
"Isn't that Hayes great?" Houston coach Guy Lewis exclaimed. "Almost every game he plays is great."
Alcindor, 5 inches taller than Hayes, had a dreadful night, perhaps due in part to the effects of an eye injury that had kept him out of the Bruins' two previous games. He had 12 rebounds but only 15 points, hitting just 4 of 18 attempts.
In all, UCLA shot 33.6 percent (26-for-77), far below its season average of 50 percent.
UCLA had the early spark, but Houston stayed close, and when Hayes' 10 points led a 16-6 run, it took the lead and never trailed again. It led 46-43 at the half, by which time Hayes had 29 points, and spent the rest of the game fighting off the Bruins.
This victory was particularly sweet for Houston. It avenged UCLA's 73-58 triumph over the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament Final Four about 10 months earlier.
Two months later, though, UCLA retaliated, again in the Final Four. It crushed the Cougars 101-69.
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