The Game of the Century in college basketball was an NCAA historical game between the University of Houston Cougars and the UCLA Bruins played on January 20, 1968 at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. It was the first NCAA regular season game broadcast nationwide in prime time. It established college basketball as a sports commodity on television and paved the way for the modern "March Madness" television coverage.
The game was televised nationally via a syndication package through the TVS Television Network, with Dick Enberg announcing and Bob Pettit providing color commentary. Morgan had insisted to TVS owner Eddie Einhorn that TVS use their broadcaster. The basketball floor actually came from the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.
The Bruins arrived in Houston with a 47-game, two-and-a-half-season winning streak. The Cougars were also undefeated since the last meeting between the two teams. Lew Alcindor had a scratch on the cornea of his eye, acquired on court when he got struck by Ted Henderson of Cal in a rebound battle.
The first half between the AP #1 Bruins and AP #2 Cougars closed with the Cougars up by three points. The second half saw the tension between the squads highlighted within the matchup of Houston's Elvin Hayes and UCLA's Lew Alcindor. Hayes, a 6-foot-9 forward, was not directly matched against the 7-2 Alcindor, but he did block three of Alcindor's shots, and the crowd roared his nickname, "Big E."
With two minutes to go and the score tied by Lucius Allen free throws at 69-69, Elvin Hayes took a shot and was fouled by Bruin reserve Jim Nielsen. Hayes, playing with four fouls in the second half, scored two free throws. The Bruins still had time to score, but an attempted basket by Lucius Allen would not drop.
In the end, the Cougars pulled the upset, 71-69, ending the Bruins' 47-game winning streak.
This would be the worst performance of Lew Alcindor's college career. It was the only time he shot less than 50% from the field.
Neither team would lose another game for the rest of the season. The teams faced off again later that season in the 1968 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament semi finals, with the now #2 ranked Bruins getting their revenge 101-69 against the #1 ranked Cougars and advancing to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 78-55 for the 1968 title. Houston also lost the consolation game to Ohio State. These games were at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, on the same floor used in the Astrodome game. Houston would open their 1968-1969 season at the Sports Arena, losing to USC on the same floor.
The 1971 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament was held at the Astrodome following the success of the game and drew more than 31,000 spectators for both the semi-finals and championship. The 1982 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament was held at the Louisiana Superdome. Eventually, most NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship Final Fours were awarded only to host cities with domed stadiums, and starting with the 1997 tournament, only domed stadiums would be considered for the Final Four.
UCLA and Houston played again in 1969 at Pauley Pavilion for the regular season rematch. UCLA won 100-64. UCLA would go on to win seven more NCAA championships. Guy Lewis would bring his Phi Slama Jama teams to the NCAA final four in 1982-1984.
In 2007, Both Guy Lewis and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Both schools received $125,000 for the game. This was more than the 1968 NCAA tournament payout of $31,781. After January 20th, 1968, the NCAA was able to broadcast college sports matchups at any time of the season, gradually allowing them to have more influence over future broadcast scheduling and introducing more Americans through media to the possibility of higher education opportunities provided by the NCAA. In 1969, NBC became the first major network to broadcast the championship game, at a cost of more than $500,000. In 2008, the current NCAA deal with CBS to televise the entire tournament is worth 1,000 times that.