Old Friends

IrishEyes offers an historical perspective on the Notre Dame/UCLA series as the Bruins come to South Bend for a nationally-televised matchup with the Irish on Saturday.

The names associated with The Game still roll off a basketball fan's tongue: Wooden, Walton, Wilkes, and Curtis. Phelps, Shumate, Brokaw, and of course, the name that hit The Shot in The Game itself…Clay.

The Notre Dame/UCLA rivalry is famous for one, program-changing contest: a 1974, 71-70, 88-game streak-snapping victory by the No. 2 Irish vs. the visiting, undisputed No. 1, and seven-time defending NCAA Champion Bruins.

But for the men that shaped the rivalry and for the fans from coast-to-coast who relished it during its heyday, the Irish upset on January 19, 1974 was simply the apex of the greatest intersectional rivalry of the 70s.

Royalty

1964, 1965, 1967-1973, and 1975.

The next time someone questions if Duke or the 49ers, Steelers, Cowboys or Patriots qualify as a "Dynasty" just mention those dates and three names: John Wooden, Lew Alcindor, and Bill Walton.

Throw in the never-to-be matched 88-game winning streak that fittingly began in late January of 1971…one game after Notre Dame's Austin Carr (pictured) poured in 46 points in an 89-82 upset win by Johnny Dee's No. 9 Irish over the No. 1 ranked Bruins.

Yes, the lesser-known fact surrounding Notre Dame's epic streak-snapper in '74 is that the Irish book-ended said streak by handing the Bruins their first and only loss in '71. It took UCLA nearly three calendar years and one Hall of Fame center later to walk off the court on the short side of the stick again…the Athletic and Convocation Center was indeed a house of horrors for the greatest team in college basketball history.

Of course, it wasn't all bad for the Bruins on their annual winter trips to northern Indiana, as UCLA broke college basketball's previous longest streak of 60 consecutive victories (set by Bill Russell's San Francisco Dons) with their 61st straight win occurring in South Bend in January of '73.

The Bruins took advantage of a dry period at the outset of the Digger Phelps era at Notre Dame (after losing Carr and Dee, Digger took over a talentless squad that finished 6-20 in 1972 but improved to 18-12 in '73) dropping Phelps' first two teams in four straight contests by the hard to imagine counts of 114-56; 57-32; 82-56; and 82-63.

The next matchup between the two ended the Bruins 88-game run and resulted in the first-ever No. 1 ranking for Notre Dame basketball. The perch atop the national landscape lasted exactly two games, seven days, and one cross country flight before, you guessed it,

UCLA buried the Irish 94-75 at Pauley Pavilion…revenge for ruining nearly three full seasons of perfection.

During UCLA's 12-year run of dominance from 1964-1975, the Bruins won 10 national titles and lost 14 basketball games. Three of those games were to the Irish.

From 1962-1965 and in every season from 1967 through 1979, UCLA put a member of its starting five on the nation's first team All American squad.

Halcyon days

The Bruins lead the all time series 28-19, but after the streak-snapper in South Bend in '74 through the graduation of Phelps' greatest recruiting class (led by Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Woolridge, and Tracy Jackson) following the 1981 season, the Irish played UCLA to a stalemate, winning 8 of the following 15 contests over that 8-year span. (Former Irish guard Rich Branning and his classmate, swingman and Irish Olympian Bill Hanzlik finished a remarkable 6-2 vs. the Bruins in their time at Notre Dame – the fall of 1976 through spring of 1980.)

During that '74-'81 stretch, UCLA produced 10 first round NBA Draft picks and 23 Bruins alums were drafted into the league at the height of the ND/UCLA rivalry.

The Irish approached the Bruins ridiculous talent level, seeing 16 of its players drafted in that same span (six in the first round).

UCLA finished among the nation's top 10 in the final Associated Press poll in seven of those eight seasons with the Irish following suit in six of their own (including a No. 4 finish in both 1974 and 1979…the two best end-season rankings in program history).

Finally, in 1976, Notre Dame beat UCLA 66-63 at Pauley Pavilion, ending the Bruins mind-boggling 115-game home court winning streak over non-conference opponents, and the first loss to an opponent outside the PAC-10 in the building's history.

Let's do this again

After a one-season hiatus in 1984, the team's matched up on 12 occasions from 1985-1995. The Irish took seven of those 12 contests and seven of the 12 overall were decided by eight points or fewer.

But the series dissolved (and the Irish program nearly followed suit) from 1995 through 2003.

Enter current Irish head coach and self-proclaimed basketball junkie, Mike Brey.

"When I got the job 10 years ago," Brey began before a November practice this fall. "The two things people said were: ‘When are we going to play when are we going to play UCLA and when are we going to play DePaul'?"

(DePaul is Notre Dame's third most common opponent with the teams' doing battle on 99 occasions , though the two programs did not play from the end of 1994 until 2001…Brey's second season at the helm).

In Brey's fourth season, the Irish began a two-season, interrupted home-and-home with the Bruins, winning 75-60 in Pauley Pavilion in 2004 then losing to UCLA in South Bend a year later, 75-65.

The teams met again last season, with the game occurring at the tail end of Notre Dame's season-killing seven-game losing skid, and the Irish took one on the chin in Tinsel Town, 89-63.

UCLA returns the favor with a trip to South Bend on December 19 this year, a game that Brey has earmarked as the unofficial dedication of Notre Dame's new Purcell Pavilion.

Brey knows the game is special, not only for long-time Irish fans, but those that have loved college basketball for decades.

"I certainly think its something every college basketball fan can relate to," Brey began. "As a young basketball junkie growing up in Washington, D.C., I remember watching Notre Dame and UCLA, many of the games, and certainly the historic one (1974).

"It's a great game; two programs with a lot of tradition. There's history, there's drama, and again, when I got in this town, ‘Coach, when are we playing UCLA…this will be the fourth time in my tenure. We won't (be able to) play every year but something we want to revisit."

January 19, 1974

Approximately 20,000 Irish fans have claimed, over the years, to be among the delirious horde hanging from the rafters to watch the indestructible Bruins wilt with an 11-point lead with 3:22 remaining.

There were officially 11,343 in attendance that day (and, truth be told, there was actually one extra, as my older brothers pulled a Gate 10 entrance switcheroo with an un-ripped, old game ticket: UCLA was home game No. 6 that season. They simply brought along an extra for game No. 9.

I assume any reprisal falls under the now 36-season Statute of Limitations). What those fans witnessed that evening was the greatest final stretch and victory in Notre Dame basketball history.

The Irish trailed 35-18 and ultimately 70-59 before scoring the game's final 12 points – the most important 12-point run in program history:

  • Two baskets by center John Shumate, who finished with 25 for the game
  • A steal and score by freshman phenom and future Basketball Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley
  • A 20-foot jumper by junior and game-high scorer (25) Gary Brokaw (the original "Magic" for you long-time Irish ‘backers) followed by two Brokaw free throws
  • After a charging call on UCLA's Keith Wilkes, the now-famous corner jump shot buried by senior guard Dwight Clay over the outstretched arm of a leaping Tommy Curtis who had left Clay to double Brokaw.

After Curtis missed with six seconds remaining, a mad flurry of Bruins shots caromed off: the final ending in the arms of Shumate who fired the ball underhanded into the air as he was mobbed by the frenzied Irish masses.

UCLA had lost for the second time in 131 basketball games…both to Notre Dame.

"That's the biggest shot of my life," Clay said years later. "That's my claim to fame, my 15 minutes of fame."

It was a familiar feeling for the player they called The Ice Man: Clay hit a similar shot to defeat No. 4 Marquette and end the Warriors 81-game home court winning streak 53 weeks prior.

Old friends meet again

Saturday's matchup will be the 48th between the teams. The Bruins hold a 28-19 edge in the series but are just 11-11 in South Bend.

The timing of the game is appealing, both to Irish fans sick of a soft December slate, and to Coach Brey, who knows the future of the series lies in November/December matchups.

"My feeling, it probably wasn't the smartest scheduling to throw UCLA in the midst of that stretch last year," Brey offered of the '09 beating at Pauley Pavilion. "But the reason I did it (agreed to a game in February), I felt that when UCLA opened the new (Athletic and Convocation Center) in 1968; I thought it was important that we get them in here at some point.

"In a lot of ways we'll kind of look at this (December 19) as the ‘Dedication Game' again, 40 years later."

Saturday's game will offer a national showcase for both squads as they prepare to do battle in two of the nation's deepest conferences.

More importantly it offers Irish fans a chance to connect the program's storied past with its present (fans have approximately 20-25 more games to watch one of the school's all-time greats operate in the paint) and its future in the Purcell Pavilion…a building that shouldn't have to wait long for its first memorable victory.

Note: Portion's of this column originally appeared in a feature, New Look, Legendary Foe, for IrishEyes Magazine.

A game preview of tomorrow's matchup will be published later today.


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