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consolation game

Game of the Century (college basketball)

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.

History

The UCLA Bruins were the dominant NCAA men's basketball program of the era, winning NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championships in 1964, 1965, and 1967. Houston Cougars coach Guy V. Lewis wanted to prove his program's worth to his critics, so he decided to schedule UCLA. Houston and UCLA had met in the previous season in the semi finals of the 1967 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. UCLA had prevailed against Houston 73-58, and won that championship.

The Game

Ted Nance, the sports information director for the University of Houston, put the schedule together. UCLA sports information director J.D. Morgan talked Bruin head coach John Wooden into the game by explaining how great it would be for college basketball. Nance put advertisements in the Cougar football programs touting the game as the "Game of the Century".

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.

Aftermath

Up to that point only NCAA post-season games had been broadcast nationally, so there was much skepticism regarding where the broadcast would take the non-profit organization's policy. The broadcast drew a vast television audience in addition to the 52,629 fans who had filled the Astrodome for its first basketball game.

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.

Significance

Previously, only NCAA post-season games were broadcast on national television, but only on evidence that broadcasters were going to make a profit from the broadcasts. The "Game of the Century" between the Houston Cougars and the UCLA Bruins proved that Americans were willing to watch college basketball games during the regular seasons. Eddie Einhorn paid $27,000 for the broadcast rights on TVS. In the end, Einhorn signed up 120 stations, many of which would infuriate the networks they were affiliated with by canceling their regular programming to show the game.

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.

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