Shortly before the holidays, I received a nice e-mail note from Ted Nance, the former UH Sports Information Director who spent all or part of five decades involved with Cougar athletics. Ted said it was OK to reprint his message, so I've done so below, in slightly edited form. Many of the things Ted discusses were new to me, and perhaps they'll also be to some of you. Take a look!
I have followed your web site and postings regarding the UH-UCLA game with great interest. That game changed college basketball forever. It opened up the game to a new world of large arenas (stadiums), national television and prime time entertainment. It will be a long time before the impact this game had on the sport can be duplicated. The fact that both teams were undefeated with winning streaks and ranked one and two, the nation's top two players (both All-America choices) were involved, and the game was the first college game to be televised nationally during prime time, played in the nation's only dome (at that time it was only four years old) and the largest paid crowd in history for a basketball game are an unusual set of facts that would also be very hard to duplicate today. Regardless of the outcome, the game was big for both schools because of the effect it had on the game's future..
On a totally different point, much has been made of Alcindor's eye problem prior to the game. However, little or no mention is made of these two factors.
First, Houston had two starters who missed the NCAA championship game in Los Angeles [NOTE: UH and UCLA actually met in the 1968 semi-finals]. George Reynolds, UH's 6-4 starting point guard did not play in the NCAA due to an eligibility problem. He played 36 minutes in the Astrodome game, hitting 5 of 8 field goal attempts, 3 of 3 at the line and took down five rebounds. For the season he averaged 10 points, five rebounds and was the team's best free throw shooter and best outside shooter (53.8 FG pct.). He also led the team in assists. His defense, due to his size and agility, was also an important factor in the Dome game that was sorely missed in the NCAA game. He was replaced by Vern Lewis in the NCAA game. Lewis was a 5-ll senior who averaged 2.8 points, 1.0 rebounds and hit 38.5 percent from the field and 60.5 percent from the free throw line. He had neither the size nor the physical ability that Reynolds had defensively.
In the book College Basketball's 25 Greatest Teams by Billy Packer and Roland Lazenby published in 1989, Elvin Hayes said, "George (Reynolds) was the greatest point guard I ever played with." That gives you a better idea of what Houston missed in the NCAA game in Los Angeles. That UH team was ranked 11th in the all-time rankings by the book.
Another starter, Forward Melvin Bell (6-7), a great rebounder and scorer, blew out a knee in pre-season and missed the entire season. Melvin had averaged nearly 13 points and nine rebounds as a sophomore the year before to rank third in scoring and second in rebounding on the team. He had broken some of Elvin Hayes' freshman records and was considered a great prospect. However, he never was able to regain his top form after the knee injury.
Incidentally, Eddie Einhorn is working on a book about his years in television and has a chapter on the UH-UCLA game. He called me while he was in Houston for the World Series and was trying to get together a mini reunion from the game with Elvin, Don Chaney, Guy, et al., but I was in Northern Michigan at the time so I don't know how it came out...