TGS COLLEGE HOOPS...SHAKE DOWN THE THUNDER AT NOTRE DAME!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor
Wake up the echoes, indeed!
We teased in our most recent edition of TGS Hoops, covering last weekend’s action, about the unlikelihood of Notre Dame recalling past great upsets at home when it hosted top-ranked Syracuse on Saturday at the newly-named Phil Purcell Pavilion (formerly known as the Joyce Center and, before that, simply the Athletic and Convocation Center). We joked about John Shumate, Gary Brokaw, and Dwight Clay, architects of the most memorable upset in Notre Dame history over UCLA in 1974, breaking the Bruins’ 88-game win streak in the process, not having any more eligibility to help the Fighting Irish against Jim Boeheim’s number one Orange.
It turned out that HC Mike Brey’s Notre Dame didn’t need help from them or Adrian Dantley or Digger Phelps or any other Irish hoop legends. Jack Cooley, Scott Martin, and Jerian Grant, who combined for 41 points between them, were good enough to put Syracuse’s 20-game unbeaten string to the sword at South Bend in a 67-58 shocker that recalled an era in which the Irish routinely knocked off top-rated teams at home.
We can forgive those who might not recall the old Notre Dame upset magic, because the Irish haven’t beaten a number one at home since 1987, when Dean Smith’s North Carolina was KO’d. That was in the days when Notre Dame still campaigned as a basketball independent, and before it would become a hoops member of the Big East. Notre Dame now has eight such victories (seven of those at home) in its basketball history over top-ranked teams, but two particular wins still reverberate in South Bend, including one whose 41st anniversary occurred on Monday, a result that highlighted a revival of hoops at a university that had previously been mostly (if not completely) renowned for its football exploits.
And to this day, we’re not sure that we’ve ever seen a better individual performance than the one in which Irish guard Austin Carr was almost personally able to slay a top-ranked and unbeaten UCLA team and begin the grand tradition of number one upsets in South Bend.
Notre Dame basketball had always taken a back seat to football, but the school has always taken its hoops rather seriously. And when the basketball program began to slide in the latter days of coach John Jordan’s regime in the early ‘60s, Irish AD Moose Krause decided to make a change in 1964, the same year a young football coach from Northwestern named Ara Parseghian was lured from Northwestern to revive the flagging Irish gridiron fortunes. At the same time, Krause tabbed Johnny Dee, a former Notre Dame QB as an undergrad and onetime hoops coach at Alabama, to lead the basketball program out of the wilderness.
And it was Dee who revived basketball in South Bend.
Dee took the job on a few conditions, one being that Krause and school president Father Theodore Hesburgh accelerate plans for a new on-campus fieldhouse. The old Notre Dame Fieldhouse was a turn-of-the-century barn that could shoehorn in maybe 6000 fans if the fire marshals weren’t looking. Charming, perhaps, but with new arenas popping up all over the country, the Irish could no longer be saddled with an out-of-date arena that even moved Bob Hope to comment about its appearance after an on-campus performance. “Well,” said Hope, “I better stop now. I know you have to get the cows back in soon.”
Sports Illustrated was even less charitable in its description . “It is a gloomy eyesore that looks, from the inside, like an abandoned World War I blimp hangar,” said SI in 1968. “No self-respecting rodent would want to infest the place.”
Getting a commitment to build the new fieldhouse, which Hesburgh and Krause stipulated must receive funds for construction from outside the university and not exceed the cost of the new Memorial Library, dedicated in 1962, was a key for Dee. Remember, most of Notre Dame’s big “home” games in that era were often played in Chicago at the old Stadium, often part of the Arthur Morse doubleheaders we highlighted a week ago. The annual Irish game with Kentucky in those years would always be contested in Louisville’s Freedom Hall.
Dee used the lure of the new fieldhouse to begin recruiting nationally. Although the Irish had a few African-American hoopsters of note prior to the mid 60s (notably Tommy Hawkins in the late ‘50s and Larry Sheffield in the early ‘60s), Dee made it a point to lure black athletes to South Bend. To that end, Dee established a beachhead in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor and mined considerable talent from the area. Bob Whitmore and Sid Catlett (both from Baltimore’s DeMatha High), Collis Jones (D.C.’s St. John’s High), and Carr (D.C.’s Mackin High) began a pipeline from the corridor that would endure into the Digger Phelps regime and would eventually include Dantley (also DeMatha), Duck Williams (from Carr’s Mackin High), Tracy Jackson (via Paint Branch High, just outside the D.C. Beltway in Burtonsville, MD) and Tom Sluby (from Pat Buchanan’s alma mater Gonzaga Prep, within sight of the US Capitol).
(Remember, these were the days long before Georgetown captured the imagination of D.C. hoops aficionados and reached powerhouse status for John Thompson a decade later.)
Dee also scoured elsewhere in the East for talent, pulling future stars John Shumate and Gary Brokaw from New Jersey and Dwight Clay from Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, the schedule was being upgraded, with South Carolina, Houston, and Villanova added to the slate, as was UCLA in 1966 for an annual series that would expand to home-and-home matchups beginning with the 1971-72 campaign.
Mostly, however, Dee changed the Notre Dame style to more of an uptempo look that helped attract the likes of Carr to South Bend.
Dee’s first team, with holdovers Walt Sahm, future big league pitcher Ron Reed, Jay Miller, and the aforementioned Larry Sheffield made the Big Dance in 1964-65 but hit rock bottom shortly thereafter, skidding to a 5-21 mark, the worst in Irish program history, the following year. Adding Whitmore, along with Bob Amzen and Dwight Murphy, however, laid the foundation for a revival, beginning with an NIT run in the 1967-68 season.
The Carr-Catlett-Jones class would make its varsity debut the following 1968-69 season, when the new Athletic and Convocation Center would open amid great fanfare. Lew Alcindor’s UCLA, which had also opened Purdue’s new arena the previous year (highlighted on these pages last spring), was the first team to visit the new ACC, a bold move by Dee and Krause, considering how the Bruins had beaten the Irish by 51 points the previous year.
Dee bravely challenged John Wooden’s UCLA with a man-to-man defense and an uptempo pace in the ACC opener, and the teams were tied until late in the first half when the Bruins finally began to pull clear, eventually winning 88-75. Dee took that team to the NCAA Tournament and would again in 1970, a year in which Carr broke Bill Bradley’s single-game scoring mark of 58 by pouring in 61 in a first-round game vs. Ohio U. Still, Dee’s Notre Dame was seeking a landmark win to capture the nation’s imagination.
The chance came on January 23, 1971, when Wooden once again took an undefeated and top-ranked Bruin team into South Bend. At that point, UCLA was defending national champ (and had won the title four years running) and riding a 19-game win streak. Moreover, the Bruins had won 48 straight non-conference games since the famous January, 1968 loss to Houston at the Astrodome.
Dee’s Irish had scored a few notable wins in the previous 1969-70 season, beating a trio of Top Ten teams (West Virginia, Illinois, and Marquette), but had been blasted 108-77 at Pauley Pavilion by the Bruins. The revenge trap, however, had been laid at South Bend, and a national TV audience would be able to watch on Eddie Einhorn’s syndicated TVS network. Dick "Oh My!" Enberg and Hot Rod Hundley would be courtside to call the action. A win over the Bruins would put Notre Dame hoops on the map, once and for all.
The 1970-71 edition of UCLA, however, bore little resemblance to some of the more stylish Bruin championship teams of the Wooden era. It was the period of time between the Alcindor and Bill Walton teams, and the fullcourt press that highlighted Wooden’s first two title winners in the mid ‘60s was used sparingly. The Bruin teams of 1969-70 and 1970-71 would instead batter opponents into submission with a rugged frontline featuring forwards 6-7 Curtis Rowe and 6-8 Sidney Wicks, plus 6-9 C Steve Patterson. But with junior G Henry Bibby in a season-long shooting slump, the 1970-71 UCLA version was more vulnerable than some of Wooden’s other powerhouses. The gears of that season’s UCLA offense would often grind, although the frontline’s ability to dominate the glass (the Bruins entered South Bend having outrebounded foes by a whopping 15 caroms per game) was usually enough to overcome any shooting woes.
Yet Wooden was justifiably worried in late January because his team had been laboring. The Bruins had been pushed by William & Mary at the Steel Bowl Tournament in Pittsburgh over the Christmas holidays and had been sloppy despite the final scoreline in the previous night’s 87-62 win at Loyola-Chicago, an annual excursion for the Bruins in those years. The subsequent bus ride to South Bend was eventful because the driver lost his way (not an easy thing to do going straight east on I-80) and didn’t arrive until 3 AM, causing Wooden to fret further about something not being right. On top of their coach’s concerns, the Bruins were tired and angry from the unexpected detour to South Bend and got just a few hours of sleep before the game that afternoon.
Carr, of course, was another reason for Wooden to be concerned. The Irish guard had scored 38.1 ppg the previous season and had delivered several prodigious efforts on top of the 61-point explosion vs. Ohio in the 1970 Big Dance. Carr had also erupted for 50 points in a 99-92 ND win over Kentucky at Louisville the previous month, although he was not hitting the Bruin game in top form, having missed 23 of 36 shots in a recent game against Duquesne and losing that one to the Dukes, and another vs. Marquette, in two of the three previous outings.
Indeed, the Irish, at 8-4, had been a mild disappointment save for the Kentucky win.
But from the outset against UCLA, the atmosphere in the ACC was electric, as if one could sense an upset brewing. The drama quickly built in South Bend with the noise and band blaring the famous fight song while Enberg excitedly described the unfolding developments to the national TV audience. Dee’s Irish offense broke quickly, with big men Catlett and John Pleick the prime screeners in the “double stack” sets that would spring Carr. Meanwhile, clever point guard Jackie Meehan continually sought to distribute the ball to Carr (who scored 37 ppg that senior year) and forward Collis Jones, who made overplaying Carr a risk for opponents by scoring 23 ppg and nabbing 13 rpg himself that season.
It was mostly Carr, however, who was causing UCLA fits, as Dee’s Irish jumped to a quick 10-3 lead, helped in no small part by the unheralded Catlett and Pleick doing yeoman’s work in the paint and heroically battling Rowe, Wicks, and Patterson on the glass. Wooden’s press, not as lethal as the versions perfected by the Walt Hazzard-Gail Goodrich teams a few years previous, was being shredded as Dee flooded the deep zone against Wicks, who was also the last man at the back of the defense. Dee had also stationed Carr in the middle, allowing him room to take the ball upcourt and create more driving opportunities. Wooden soon abandoned the press, but not before the Irish had roared to a 37-24 advantage. The Athletic and Convocation Center was hopping, while Enberg and Hundley could barely contain their excitement while describing the action to the TV audience. The feel of a major upset was in the air...oh, my!
Wooden, however, began to have some success slowing Carr for a short while with backup guard Terry Schofield, as the Bruins chopped the halftime deficit to 43-38, and with Bibby finally finding some range on his jumpers, UCLA leveled matters shortly after the break at 47. With the Bruin frontline beginning to wear out the gallant Catlett and Pleick, who had each reached four fouls, the momentum looked to be swinging UCLA’s way.
Schofield, however, had to leave the game with a shoulder injury, and starting Bruin guard Kenny Booker resumed getting smoked by Carr, who immediately reassumed command of proceedings. Meanwhile, Collis Jones was effectively neutralizing Wicks. A pair of steals and buckets by Carr immediately staked Notre Dame to a 5-point lead, and the Bruins were again in trouble.
With Carr on fire, Booker ineffective on defense, and Schofield hurting, Wooden turned to little-used Larry Hollyfield (who would go on to star on the next two Bruin title teams) in an effort to slow Carr, but to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate roll of the dice, Wooden assigned his All-American forward Wicks to Carr, but it was a useless act. Carr scored 15 of Notre Dame’s final 17 points and in the final minute would foul out Wicks, who echoed his frustration to Wooden. “I told you not to put me on him!,” said an angry Wicks to the Wizard.
In those days, UCLA’s losses were major news, and the result from South Bend shook the college hoops landscape. The final score was 89-82 in Notre Dame’s favor, and Carr’s stats underlined his brilliance; 46 points on 17 of 30 shooting, plus 12 of 16 from the free-throw line, forever cementing him into Notre Dame hoops lore. Meanwhile, Collis Jones had outplayed Wicks and added 19 points and 14 rebounds of his own. The Fighting Irish were indeed back on the college basketball map, and a tradition of beating number one teams at South Bend (as Syracuse found out last week) was spawned.
Moreover, UCLA had temporarily surrendered the top spot in the polls...to none other than crosstown rival Southern Cal.
Next issue: Part II of Shake Down The Thunder...and the unforgettable 1974 UCLA at Notre Dame game!
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