Game of the Century (college basketball)
|Game of the Century
|Date||January 20, 1968|
|United States TV coverage|
|Network||TVS Television Network|
|Announcers||Dick Enberg and Bob Pettit|
The Game of the Century in college basketball was a historical NCAA game between the University of Houston Cougars and the UCLA Bruins played on January 20, 1968, at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. It was the first NCAA regular season game broadcast nationwide in prime time. It established college basketball as a sports commodity on television and paved the way for the modern "March Madness" television coverage.
The UCLA Bruins were the dominant NCAA men's basketball program of the era, winning NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championships in 1964, 1965, and 1967. Houston Cougars coach Guy V. Lewis wanted to prove his program's worth to his critics, so he decided to schedule UCLA. Houston and UCLA had met in the previous season in the semifinals of the 1967 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. UCLA had prevailed against Houston 73–58, and won that championship.
Ted Nance, the sports information director for the University of Houston, put the schedule together. UCLA sports information director J.D. Morgan talked Bruin head coach John Wooden into the game by explaining how great it would be for college basketball. Nance put advertisements in the Cougar football programs touting the game as the "Game of the Century."
The game was televised nationally via a syndication package through the TVS Television Network, with Dick Enberg announcing and Bob Pettit providing color commentary. Morgan had insisted to TVS owner Eddie Einhorn that TVS use their broadcaster. Einhorn paid $27,000 for the broadcast rights on TVS. TVS signed up 120 stations, many of which would preempt regularly scheduled network programming. The basketball floor actually came from the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
The Bruins arrived in Houston with a 47-game, two-and-a-half-season winning streak. The Cougars were also undefeated since the last meeting between the two teams. Lew Alcindor (more famously known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had a scratch on the cornea of his eye, acquired on court when he got struck by Ted Henderson of Cal in a rebound battle.
The first half between the AP #1 Bruins and AP #2 Cougars closed with the Cougars up by three points. The second half saw the tension between the squads highlighted within the matchup of Houston's Elvin Hayes and UCLA's Lew Alcindor. Hayes, a 6-foot-9 forward, was not directly matched against the 7–2 Alcindor, but he did block three of Alcindor's shots, and the crowd roared his nickname, "Big E."
With two minutes to go and the score tied by Lucius Allen free throws at 69–69, Elvin Hayes took a shot and was fouled by Bruin reserve Jim Nielsen. Hayes, playing with four fouls in the second half, scored two free throws. The Bruins still had time to score, but an attempted basket by Lucius Allen would not drop. On the last possession, UCLA's premier All-American guard Mike Warren committed a rare mental error deflecting out of bounds a pass meant for UCLA's star shooter Lynn Shackelford, who was unguarded in the corner.
In the end, the Cougars pulled the upset, 71–69, ending the Bruins' 47-game winning streak.
Up to that point, only NCAA post-season games had been broadcast nationally, so there was much skepticism regarding where the broadcast would take the non-profit organization's policy. The broadcast drew a vast television audience in addition to the 52,693 fans who had filled the Astrodome for its first basketball game. Each school received $125,000 for the game, four times the 1968 NCAA tournament payout of $31,781.
The January 1968 cover of Sports Illustrated depicted the game, with Hayes shooting over Alcindor. Alcindor—who had sustained an eye injury at a game against Cal a week earlier—had the worst performance of his college career. It was one of only two times in his UCLA career that he shot less than 50% from the field.
Neither team lost another game for the rest of the regular season. The teams faced off again later that season in the 1968 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament semifinals, with the then #2 ranked Bruins getting their revenge 101–69 against the #1-ranked Cougars and advancing to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 78–55 for the 1968 title. Houston also lost the consolation game to Ohio State. Those games were at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, on the same floor used in the Astrodome game. Houston would open their 1968–1969 season at the Sports Arena, losing to Southern Cal on the same floor.
The 1971 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament was held at the Astrodome following the success of the game and drew more than 31,000 spectators for both the semifinals and championship. The 1982 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament was held at the Louisiana Superdome. Eventually, most NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship Final Fours were awarded only to host cities with domed stadiums, and starting with the 1997 tournament, only domed stadiums would be considered for the Final Four.
UCLA and Houston played again in 1969 at Pauley Pavilion for the regular-season rematch. UCLA won 100–64. UCLA would go on to win seven more NCAA championships. Guy Lewis would bring his Phi Slama Jama teams to the NCAA Final Four in 1982–1984.
In 2007, both Guy Lewis and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Previously, only NCAA post-season games were broadcast on national television. The "Game of the Century" proved that a national audience would watch college basketball games during the regular season. In 1969, NBC became the first major network to broadcast the championship game, at a cost of more than $500,000. In 2008, the NCAA deal with CBS to televise the entire tournament was worth $545 million.
- 2007-2008 UCLA Men's Basketball Media Guide - PDF copy available at www.uclabruins.com. pg. 61 Post Season Scoring Recaps
- Jerry Wizig - It's been 20 years since they've played The Game of the Century. Houston Chronicle, January 20, 1988
- Ron Rapoport - 1968: Houston vs. UCLA at the Astrodome - The game that took college basketball to a new level. UCLA fell at the cavernous Astrodome and had its 47-game winning streak stopped. Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2008 link at Latimes.com
- Jeff Prugh - Bruins win again without Alcindor. Big Lew Sidelined By Eye Injury Suffered in Game against Bears. Los Angeles Times, January 14, 1968
- Robyn Norwood - Game of the Century. Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1998
- Funeral in Downey today for UCLA player Edgar Lacey, Long Beach Press Telegram, April 8, 2011
- Chapin, Dwight - How Wooden Stopped the Big E. Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1968; A1;
- 2007-2008 UCLA Men's Basketball Media Guide - PDF copy available at www.uclabruins.com. pg. 122 Year by Year results
- "CBS renews NCAA B'ball". CNN. November 18, 1999.
- Al Carter - College Basketball: UH and UCLA, under the big top. San Antonio Express-News, January 19, 2008,
- Einhorn, Eddie; Ron Rapaport. How March Became Madness: How the NCAA Tournament Became the Greatest Sporting Event in America. Chicago, Illinois: Triumph Books. ISBN 1-57243-809-6. (The book includes a DVD of the game with commentary by Dick Enberg)
- Sports Illustrated January 29, 1968
- Jerry Wizig - UH Stuns Mighty UCLA 71-69. Houston Chronicle, January 21, 1968
- Jeff Prugh - Big E Stands For End Of Bruin Streak. Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1968
- J.R. Gonzales - The Game of the Century: Looking back 40 years
- Al Carter - `GAME OF THE CENTURY'/A boon for college basketball, a bust for spectators. Houston Chronicle, January 20, 1988
- Eddie Sefko - `GAME OF THE CENTURY'/Game now unimportant, says Hayes. Houston Chronicle, January 20, 1988
- Madness began with one game (Jerry Wizig, The HomeCourt 3/26/95)
- Game of the Century retrospective blog (Alan Reifman)