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On This Date in Sports March 23, 1968

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The UCLA dynasty under Coach John Wooden continues as the Bruins win their fourth NCAA Basketball Tournament in five years, beating North Carolina 78-55 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The championship game was rather anticlimactic after UCLA defeated Houston 101-69 in the semifinals a day earlier. The win over Houston avenged the Bruins only loss of the season in “the Game of the Century” on January 20th at the Astrodome.

Like a machine, UCLA under the watch of John Wooden rarely lost any game, let alone during the month of March. Beginning with their championship in 1964 and ending with Wooden’s swan song in 1975 the Bruins lost just one tournament game in 11 years, a semifinal game to North Carolina State in 1974. Winning nine NCAA Basketball Championships in total, UCLA defined excellence in the era before we truly had March Madness.

The 1968 Bruins were led by Lew Alcindor, who was so dominant the NCAA outlawed dunking because it gave him too much of an advantage. When Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was not allowed to play on the varsity team in 1966, UCLA missed the tournament as conferences were allowed just one team at the time. That year he led the Bruins freshman to a victory over the varsity.

After winning the 1967 NCAA Tournament, the Bruins were favored to repeat, but faced a tough challenge in the Houston Cougars, who won a showdown at the Astrodome 71-69 in a battle of unbeaten teams dubbed “The Game of the Century”. In the Western Regionals in Albuquerque, the Bruins beat New Mexico State 58-49 in the regional semifinal and Santa Clara 87-66 to reach the regional finals to reach the Final Four where they would again take on Houston.

The semifinal game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena was the defacto championship as UCLA came in with a record of 27-1 against Houston coached by Guy Lewis, who had a record of 31-0. Learning from their defeat in January, the Bruins created a defense designed to stop Elvin Hayes, who was the nation’s leading scorer at 37.7 points per game. Hayes scored just ten points in the semifinal after torching them for 39 points in the first meeting. The Bruins meanwhile got apiece from Lew Alcindor, Lucius Allen, and Mike Lynn to win the game easily 101-69.

The championship would see UCLA face North Carolina, who coached by Dean Smith defeated Ohio State 80-66 in their semifinal game. It was clear from the start, that the Tar Heels were overmatched by the Bruins, as Lew Alcindor had his way, scoring 34 points with 16 boards in a 78-55 victory. Lew Alcindor would be named the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Lew Alcindor would also win the Most Outstanding Player in his senior season as UCLA won again in 1969.