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On This Date in Sports March 30, 1975: John Wooden's Last Ride

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It is one for the road for the Wizard of Westwood, as UCLA wins its tenth NCAA Tournament in 12 years, beating Kentucky 92-85 in the championship game in San Diego. It is the final game coached by John Wooden, who retired as the most successful coach in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Richard Washington, who scored 28 points in the title game, would be named the Most Outstanding Player. 

Led by coach John Wooden, UCLA emerged as a basketball powerhouse in 1964. When the Bruins won their first NCAA Tournament, posting a perfect 30-0 season. The Bruins would repeat in 1965, with a 28-2 record. While waiting for Lew Alcindor to become eligible as a sophomore, UCLA missed the tournament in 1966. Once the big man arrived, UCLA was nearly unbeatable, winning three straight tournaments to close the 1960s. After Lew Alcindor graduated to the NBA, the Bruins’ dynasty continued, as they won the NCAA Tournament every season between 1970-1973. Along that way, UCLA won a record 88 straight games.

John Wooden had planned to retire at the end of the season, with his 65th birthday approaching. In his final season, the team he coached would not have the big-name stars of the previous UCLA championship teams but managed a solid 23-3 regular season, earning the #1 ranking. UCLA would fall short in 1974, losing in the semifinals as Bill Walton’s moved on to the NBA.

The 1975 NCAA Tournament expanded to 32 teams, erasing early byes for the top-seeded teams. The Bruins were tested in the first round, as they needed overtime to beat Michigan 101-93 in Pullman, Washington. In Portland, in the Western Regional Semifinals, UCLA was pushed again, as they edged Montana 67-64. The Bruins began to hit their stride in the Elite Eight as they defeated Arizona State 89-75. 

Joining UCLA in San Diego for the Final Four was Syracuse making its first appearance in the Semifinals, who won the East Region. Kentucky won by upsetting Indiana in the Mideast Region, and Louisville upended Maryland in Midwest Region. Syracuse had been the top seed in the East; they made it to San Diego with wins over LaSalle, North Carolina, and Kansas State. Kentucky reached the Final Four by beating Marquette and Central Michigan before upsetting unbeaten Indiana 92-90 in the regional finals. Louisville’s path to the semifinals with wins over Rutgers, Cincinnati, and Maryland. 

The semifinals would see John Wooden face one of his former assistants Denny Crum, who was now the coach at Louisville. In many ways, this was the game of the tournament as UCLA rallied in the second half to beat the Cardinals 75-74 on a last-second shot by Richard Washington. Kentucky, meanwhile, breezed past Syracuse 95-79.

Kevin Grevey had a tremendous individual effort in the championship game, scoring a game-high 34 points for Kentucky. However, as always was the case for UCLA with John Wooden, it was about a team as Richard Washington had 28 points and 12 rebounds, while Dave Meyers had 24 points with 11 boards. UCLA had kept the Wildcats at arm’s length all game, winning 92-85, as John Wooden stepped down right after the game.

Duke is hoping history repeats, as Mike Krzyzewski, in his final season, has taken the Blue Devils to the Final Four.