UCLA and Duke, two of the most storied college programs in basketball history. It was not always so. When they met in the NCAA National Championship Game in 1964, John Wooden had coached UCLA for 16 years and advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament exactly once (1962 where they lost to the eventual champion Cincinnati, 72-70, in the National semi-final). Duke in 1964 under Vic Bubas was participating in only their second ever Final Four having lost in 1963 to Loyola of Chicago. But in the 1964 NCAA Final, the 26-4 Duke Blue Devils out of the East faced the 29-0 UCLA Bruins out of the West in the first appearance by either team in the Finals of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Even though UCLA was undefeated and ranked #1 entering the Tournament, Duke was by far the more impressive team. Entering the game, The Blue Devils had blown through their first three games of the tournament, routing Villanova in the East Regional Semi-Final 87-73, crushing Connecticut in the Regional Final, 101-54, followed by avenging a 16-point loss to Michigan earlier in the year, with a convincing 91-80 win over Michigan.
Meanwhile, UCLA had been anything but impressive in their first three games. Downing Seattle 95-90 in the West Regional Semi-Final, escaping against San Francisco 76-72 in Regional Final, before rallying from a 5-points down with seven minutes to go, to survive Kansas State in the Semis 81-75. Leading scorer Gail Goodrich was having a terrible tournament, well below his season average in all three games.
With their tallest player standing only 6’5” UCLA was at a decided size disadvantage to Duke’s Front Line of 6’10” Jay Buckley, 6’7” Jeff Mullin, and 6’10” Hack Tison. Only UCLA’s famous full court press and the magnificent Walt Hazzard and Keith Erickson had allowed UCLA to move through the tournament.
Duke was confident that they could handle UCLA’s press. Coach Bubas said “I think we can beat their press, and I’m not so sure we can’t run with them.” These were brave words against the fastest team in College Basketball. A record crowd of 10,864 came to Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium to see if Duke could confirm their coach’s words.
With just under nine minutes to go in the first half, Bubas was looking like a prophet, his big men were controlling the boards, and they were beating the press. Then everything changed. Down 30-27, Wooden inserted Sophmore Kenny Washington and the Bruins exploded. Goodrich hit a jumper, Duke rushed down the court, beating the press, only to miss a jumper, UCLA rebounded and Erickson was fouled and made the two free throws. After a missed Duke free throw Goodrich hit a baseline jumper. Washington blocked a Duke shot and Jack Hirsch completed a fast break with a lay up. Duke called time-out having lost their 3-point lead and now sat with a 6-point deficit. Out of the time out, the press then forced a turnover with Washington scoring on the other end. The press forced another turnover, again a steal by Hirsch and Washington hit a jumper. After another Duke miss, Goodrich scored on a driving lay-up. Duke turned the ball over again, with Goodrich converting two free throws. In just over two minutes UCLA had outscored Duke 16-0 and the game was never again in doubt. Goodrich finished with a game high 27 points, with young Washington adding 26, but most surprising was that UCLA out rebounded the much taller Blue Devils behind Doug McIntosh’s 11 boards and Kenny Washington’s 12.
UCLA’s win was overwhelming, 98-83, and a dynasty was launched. The Bruins would win the title again in 1965 behind Goodrich’s 42 points in the Championship Game against Michigan, 91-80. In 1967 UCLA began a run of seven straight Championships. In the 1974 Final Four they would fall in a double overtime loss to North Carolina State. UCLA followed that up with another title in 1975. Wooden would claim 10 titles in twelve years before retiring from coaching.
Duke as well would launch its own basketball legend after 1964. They would again make the Finals in 1978 and 1986. It would not be until 1991 with Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski that the Blue Devils would finally win their first Championship.
But in 1964, there was no legacy, there was no history. In the 1964 Final it was just a coach named Wooden and a small college team called the Blue Devils that played against the press. From there launched the careers and history that have come to define modern NCAA basketball royalty.
UCLA and Duke’s are among the most successful programs:
- UCLA 11
- Kentucky 8
- North Carolina 6
- Duke 5
- Indiana 5
Most Championship Games:
- UCLA 13
- Kentucky 12
- North Carolina 11
- Duke 10