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On This Date in Sports January 20, 1968

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Labeled “The Game of the Century” #1 UCLA faces #2 Houston before 52,693 fans at the Houston Astrodome. Both teams came in unbeaten, creating extra ticket demands and a national television audience. The Bruins came in with a 47-game winning streak, beating the Cougars in the Final Four a year earlier. The game was as good as advertised as Houston edged UCLA 71-69, on Elvin Hayes two clutch free throws.

Long before March Madness, became a must-see event, the NCAA was dominated by the UCLA Bruins, who won ten national championships in a 12-year span under coach John Wooden. Gracing the Bruins roster were a number of star players who were among the greatest college basketball players of all-time, including Lew Alcindor. In 1966 when he was unable to play due to rules prohibiting freshman from playing he led the Bruins freshman team to a victory over the UCLA varsity. After Alcindor the Bruins varsity a year later, UCLA did not lose a single game, winning the 1967 tournament and starting the 1967/68 season 13-0.

Hoping to dethrone UCLA, was the University of Houston, coached by Guy Lewis who entered the game with a record of 17-0 led by Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney. The Cougars had held the #2 ranking all season as their matchup with the Bruins was the most anticipated regular-season meeting in the history of College Basketball to that point. The ticket demand led to the game being played at the Astrodome to bring in the maximum crowd. It was the first time that a basketball game was played in a stadium or arena of this size, and the floor they used was borrowed from the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Billed as “The Game of the Century” the game would get rare national television exposure through the syndicated TVS Network. At the time few regular season games were televised, but the demand for this game helped the fledging syndicator begin making its impact in sports coverage. Calling the game was Dick Enberg, who had worked UCLA games previous along with Hall of Famer Bob Pettit. The game was the first national exposure for Enberg who soon would become one of the most recognizable voices in sports.  The game was intense and physical throughout as Houston held a 46-43 lead at the half. In the second half, the game continued to remain close as Elvin Hayes blocked three shots by Lew Alcindor. With two minutes left, the Bruins tied the game 69-69 on a free throw by Lucius Allen. Houston regained the lead on the next possession after Elvin Hayes was fouled by Jim Nielsen. The Big E, who scored a game-high 39 points would make both free throws to make the score 71-69. Allen missed a shot trying to answer, as time began to run out on UCLA. One last possession saw Mike Warren knock a pass out of bounds, as the Cougars ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak.

The game was a huge success as it lived up to expectations, with each team receiving a than record payout of $125,000. The game helped boost the popularity of college basketball. Neither team would lose again in the regular season as they staged a rematch in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles. This time it was UCLA emerging victorious. In the 101-69 win, Elvin Hayes was held to ten points, as the Bruins won a second straight NCAA Championship. UCLA would win again in 1969, as they lost just two games in Lew Alcindor’s three seasons in Westwood. Elvin Hayes and Lew Alcindor, later changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar each had Hall of Fame careers after being the number one pick in the NBA Draft.