Today is a historically significant date in college basketball. It was 44 years ago today, January 20, 1968, that college basketball was changed forever.
It was on this date that the sport was raised to new level and became the major television entity that it is today. The popularity of college basketball can be traced back to January 20, 1968 when Elvin Hayes and Houston Cougars defeated the seemingly unbeatable UCLA Bruins of John Wooden and Lew Alcindor.
Houston and UCLA played in front of over 52,000 spectators in the Houston AstroDome. It was the first NCAA regular season game that was broadcast nationally in prime time. The game established college hoops as a sports commodity for television and it paved the way for the March Madness, wall-to-wall, coverage that we have today.
UCLA came into the game with a 47 game winning streak. They were considered unbeatable and Alcindor was considered unstoppable. But, "the big fella" had a scratch on the cornea of his eye and he played the game with an eye patch.
It was a classic, back and forth game. In the end Houston pulled the stunning 71-69 upset on a pair of late free throws by Hayes. Hayes would go on to be a great NBA star and is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The game was televised on the old TVS Network and was billed as The Game of the Century. An unknown Dick Enberg did the play-by-play. The exposure changed his life and career. This game launched him to a career that saw him regarded as the top basketball television play-by-play announcer in the country. Former LSU and NBA star Bob Petit did the color.
Houston won the game on this night. Both of these teams went undefeated the rest of the season. They would meet again in the semi-finals of the Final Four, this time in Los Angeles. UCLA would have its revenge in a big way, winning 101-69. The Bruins would then beat Dean Smith and North Carolina in the 1968 title game.
Today’s date, January 20th is a significant one in college athletics. 44 years ago today, the game proved that a national audience would watch college basketball in prime time. We are still watching!