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UCLA’s Remaining 4 run paying homage to the workforce that sparked John Wood’s dynasty

It was a workforce with out top, with out expectations, with no prayer.

Underdog UCLA barreled its approach into the Remaining 4 that season, not simply discounted however ignored, Sports activities Illustrated describing the Bruins as “the workforce no one heard of.”

They confronted a heavy favourite within the nationwide semifinal, scratching their approach towards a taut end earlier than falling brief within the final seconds, on a loopy shot no one anticipated to go in.

The yr was 1962 — and 2021.

Startling similarities between the workforce that sparked John Wooden’s dynasty and the one which has made Mick Cronin extra well-liked than free parking in Westwood have some longtime Bruins observers drawing comfortable parallels that they hope end in the same postscript.

Gary Cunningham, a senior captain of the 1961-62 workforce, began connecting the dots a few week after Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs sank a 40-footer to beat UCLA in additional time earlier this month. It reminded Cunningham of the ache he felt after Cincinnati’s Tom Thacker buried a 25-footer to thwart his Bruins on the similar stage of the NCAA match some 59 years earlier.

“We had been heartbroken,” Cunningham, 81, mentioned this week from his house in Goleta. “We had been sort of the Cinderella workforce.”

Like the most recent vintage Bruins, Cunningham’s workforce entered the NCAA match with one of many worst information of any participant. They acquired off to a gradual begin that season and had been undersized, with the 6-foot-5 Fred Slaughter a de facto middle and the 6-foot-7 Cunningham the tallest participant on the workforce.

A valiant effort throughout a loss to nationally ranked Ohio State in December — a repeat scenario played out this season — satisfied the Bruins they had been able to taking part in with anybody. That was additionally across the time sophomore playmaker Walt Hazzard’s adventurous passes began discovering his teammates’ arms extra usually than the third row of seats.

Ohio State's Jerry Lucas scores against UCLA in 1961

Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas is about to attain in opposition to UCLA on Dec. 29, 1961. UCLA gamers embrace Gary Cunningham, left, John Inexperienced (45), and Kim Stewart, proper.

(Harold Filan / Related Press)

“If you happen to acquired open, you bought the ball,” Cunningham mentioned, “and we weren’t used to that, and wow, right here comes the ball.”

UCLA featured steadiness, 4 gamers averaging double figures in scoring (this season’s workforce had six gamers attain that threshold), however little depth, with Wood hardly ever utilizing his bench for greater than spot minutes. That meant starters Cunningham, Hazzard, Slaughter, Pete Blackman and John Inexperienced rested solely often, a predicament acquainted to closely used present Bruins Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr.

In maybe the largest departure from the newest UCLA workforce, which staggered its approach into the NCAA match with 4 consecutive losses, Cunningham’s Bruins went 12-2 down the stretch to win the Athletic Assn. of Western Universities.

They had been nonetheless anticipated to lose their NCAA match opener in opposition to Utah State. UCLA wanted Cunningham’s 21 factors on nine-for-18 capturing to prevail, 73-62, after the Bruins misplaced a 13-point halftime lead. Within the West Area ultimate in opposition to Oregon State, UCLA withstood 7-footer Mel Counts’ 24 factors and 17 rebounds as a result of no different Beaver did a lot of something throughout the Bruins’ 88-69 rout.

That despatched UCLA to the Remaining 4 for the primary time underneath Wood, then in his 14th season with the Bruins.

“I prefer to suppose that our workforce was the beginning of Wood’s dynasty.”

Gary Cunningham

“Gall, a few guards and a blistering assault,” learn an SI account that would apply to the Bruins at this time simply because it did greater than half a century in the past, “had introduced them some most surprising success.”

Cincinnati, the defending nationwide champion, was anticipated to crush UCLA in a nationwide semifinal. The Bearcats raced to a 14-point lead within the opening minutes earlier than Cunningham began draining jumpers, reminding all people why it had been a idiot’s errand to dismiss this workforce. The Bruins fought all the best way again, forging a halftime tie.

“A attribute of our workforce was we by no means gave up,” Cunningham mentioned. “It was sort of just like the UCLA workforce this yr; they might get behind after which they only saved taking part in onerous and we didn’t know another approach than to play onerous.”

Cunningham might need taken the sport’s ultimate shot had not been for a controversial charging name, one thing that additionally haunted the Bruins this month within the waning seconds of regulation in opposition to Gonzaga when Johnny Juzang was penalized for colliding with Drew Timme.

The decision that went in opposition to Hazzard gave Cincinnati the ball with the rating tied, permitting the Bearcats to name timeout and arrange a ultimate play with 10 seconds left. The ball was imagined to go to Paul Hogue, who had scored Cincinnati’s earlier 14 factors, however wound up within the arms of Thacker, who had missed all six of his pictures and was not recognized for long-range accuracy.

Irrespective of. His jumper from past the trendy NBA three-point arc went by means of the online with three seconds left. The upstart Bruins had been lastly upended.

“It ended up {that a} man that couldn’t shoot in any respect — I imply, he was a horrible outdoors shooter — throws it in and we lose by two,” Cunningham mentioned, his shock nonetheless palpable all these years later.

The epilogue significantly softened that ultimate blow. Two years later, a workforce with Hazzard and Slaughter again as savvy seniors toppled Duke to give Wooden his first national championship whereas offering the departed Cunningham with a measure of satisfaction.

John Wooden and his UCLA team celebrate a win in 1964 with a group photo

UCLA coach John Wood and his gamers have fun after defeating Duke to win the 1964 NCAA basketball championship, in Kansas Metropolis, Mo. Gamers in entrance row are, from left: Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard and Jack Hirsch.

(Related Press)

“I prefer to suppose that our workforce,” Cunningham mentioned, “was the beginning of Wood’s dynasty.”

Cunningham would return to UCLA after a short skilled profession, serving as an assistant coach underneath Wood for eight of his 10 titles. Cunningham’s 50-8 file as UCLA’s head coach from 1977-79, together with one look in an NCAA match regional ultimate, made him the shocking reply to a trivia query given the unprecedented success of his predecessor: Which UCLA basketball coach has the very best successful proportion?

“Coach Wood used to love to inform people who once we had been at a banquet or one thing,” Cunningham mentioned with fun, of getting received 86.2% of his video games earlier than turning into a profession athletics administrator.

Cunningham is among the many Bruin trustworthy that hope Cronin’s first foray to a Remaining 4 is a prelude to something even more special, although nobody is anticipating something like Wood’s haul of titles. For one factor, Cunningham identified how a lot more durable it’s to succeed in a Remaining 4 as of late than the 2 victories required when he was taking part in within the NCAA match.

Cronin’s Bruins received 5 video games to get there this season, becoming a member of Virginia Commonwealth as the one groups to advance from a First 4 to a Remaining 4. To Cunningham, it felt like a coach taking step one relatively than reaching his vacation spot.

“My colleagues, the people who I performed with, different UCLA folks,” Cunningham mentioned, “are actually excited concerning the job that he’s achieved and the way forward for UCLA basketball.”


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