Hard to believe, but this week marks the approximate 40th anniversary of UCLA’s infamous “Lost Weekend” — so-called by the following week’s cover headline in Sports Illustrated — in the Willamette Valley. ESPN2 marked the occasion on Thursday night’s telecast of the Oregon-UCLA game in Eugene (fittingly, Bill Walton was doing analysis) and this time, UCLA was a lot more successful, beating the Ducks in the final minutes.
The actual dates of the twin defeats to Oregon State and Oregon were Feb. 15-16, but UCLA’s visit north happened to be this week, so it’s worth recalling the occasion now.
When the Bruins went to Oregon, they held a 50-game conference winning streak, which included sweeping the 14-game Pac-8 schedule three straight years. They had been ranked No. 1 some 110 times in the previous 127 weeks of the poll, and in the previous seven seasons, they had lost a total of exactly six games. The John Wooden era of dominance was coming to an end, even as the Bruins would win one last national title for him in 1975, when he retired.
Four weeks before the double shocker in Oregon, the Bruins had lost 71-70 to Notre Dame and Digger Phelps, and then they pieced together five more wins before coming north. The last two wins came against the Oregon schools in Los Angeles, and perhaps the tenuous nature of the win over OSU, 80-75, foretold what was going to happen.
But on a Friday night in Corvallis, the Bruins committed 21 turnovers and squandered a 34-27 halftime lead. The Beavers took control late, and a freshman guard from LA named George Tucker downed four straight free throws and OSU held on to win, 61-57. The Beaver center was a guy who would become well known to Seattle SuperSonics fans, Lonnie Shelton, but think about the talent on the UCLA front line — Walton and longtime NBA forwards Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes and Dave Meyers. This night, Walton had 15 points and 14 rebounds.
This was back in the day of back-to-back Pac-8 games without a day off, and UCLA’s televised game down the road in Eugene was coming at 3 p.m. Saturday, just 17 hours after the stunner in Corvallis.
Oregon’s 56-51 victory would have some of the same trappings as the OSU win. Both hosts beat the vaunted Bruin 2-2-1 press and found shooters on the wing. In Corvallis, that was Paul Miller, who hit eight of 10 shots for a game-high 16 points. In Eugene, it was Bruce Coldren — like Miller, a 6-8 forward — who buried 12 of 14 jumpers.
Sports Illustrated must have had to do an epic scramble to rearrange its cover. Kenny Moore, the Olympic marathoner and an Oregon grad, wrote the story, and it forever grated on OSU partisans that the piece had an Oregon slant.
I covered OSU’s upset, and in 2004, wrote a retrospective on the weekend in the Times. Marques Johnson, now the great TV analyst, was a wide-eyed freshman on that team, and he told me it was a weird period of self-examination among the Bruins, with Walton “always challenging coach Wooden.”
Johnson said the Bruins would sing along on the bus to Bob Dylan’s iconic “Like a Rolling Stone,” and in his lyrics, they saw some of themselves:
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.
How does it feel?
One thing I’ll never forget. At a Friday-noon luncheon at the Holiday Inn in Eugene (pretty sure that’s defunct now), where the weekend’s coaches spoke to preview the games, I gave a lift back to the office to the late Chuck Niemi, sports information director at Oregon and later, Washington.
“I’ve just got this feeling,” said Niemi. “UCLA’s going to lose two this weekend.”