1972 NCAA Basketball finals: The infamous Minnesota thug squad

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by AltSptHst, Feb 13, 2010.

  1. AltSptHst Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2009
    (This is inspired by the events of Jan. 25th, 1972, when some Minnesota players attacked some Ohio State players near the end of Ohio State's win at Minnesota. This is possibly what could have happened if that incident didn't take place, and if Minnesota managed to make it to the NCAA Finals against UCLA without any other major incidents taking place).

    In 1971, Bill Musselman was hired to revive a struggling Gopher basketball team that hadn't won a Big Ten title since 1919. He said to the selection committee that there would be no rebuilding program, and that they would win right off. Then, he went out and got JC transfers Ron Behagen, Bob Nix, and Clyde Turner to join existing Gophers Jim Brewer(the 72 Big Ten player of the year), Corky Taylor, Keith Young, and future MLB star Dave Winfield. Bill wanted to put together the biggest and most intimidating team in the Big Ten.

    He was also known for showmanship. His teams would come out and do wild dunks and routines in warm-ups before games while loud acid rock was blaring over the Williams Arena PA system. It worked the fans and players into a frenzy. Musselman had turned around the Gophers, and they won the Big Ten Title in 72 with a 18-7 overall record. Bill and his team did have it's critics, though. There were pushing and shoving incidents during games that were minor, and a few coaches in the league called the Gophers "thugs and bullies". Ohio State coach Fred Taylor said that it is a miracle that there wasn't a major incident during one of their games, especially at home with those psyched-up Gopher fans. He also went on to say that he hopes nothing major happens at the NCAA's during one of their games.

    Minnesota began NCAA play against Florida State, a smaller but quicker team that gave them problems. However, Minnesota managed to stay close, and won the game late 74-71 because their front line eventually wore down the smaller Noles up front on the boards. Then, they beat Adolph Rupp and Kentucky 78-68 to go to the first Final Four in school history. They didn't have any major shoving incidents in the first two games. Musselman wanted his players under control because he wanted to save it for a potential match-up for UCLA, a team that he and his players privately couldn't stand.

    In the Final Four, they matched up with North Carolina, a team that had future NBAers Bob McAdoo and Bobby Jones and future NBA Coach George Karl. The Heels were favored, but Minnesota was determined. They wanted UCLA in the worst way, and Musselman released his defensive hounds on McAdoo. Jim Brewer, the Big Ten MVP, led the team with 30 points, and they got by the Heels in a mild upset, 79-75. After UCLA dispatched Louisville in the other National Semifinal, Musselman and Minny got what they wanted: A matchup with UCLA!

    Saturday, March 25, 1972: A day that will live in College Basketball infamy!

    At 5 p.m Eastern Time, the Gophers and Bruins would play in the NCAA Finals at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. The Bruins were going for their sixth straight title and eighth in nine years in front of their home crowd, while Minnesota was a newbie to all this. NBC would be broadcasting the game to the entire nation. Coach Bill Musselman worked his team into a frenzy in the locker room. The acid rock music was blaring, and he said that losing to UCLA would be worse than death. He wanted his players to go out there and shock the world, and that they would do, in a rather infamous way.

    During pre-game warm-ups, the Gophers would do their usual routine of slam dunks and showmanship, and some of them would say things to the Bruin players to try to taunt them. One Gopher, Dave Winfield, yelled to Wooden and said, "we are not going to be another notch on your belt". Right before tip-off, Ron Behagen started taunting Walton. The festivities were on from there.

    UCLA still had the superior team, but Minnesota hung tough throughout the first half. They had some fouls on Walton that were borderline dirty, and they made it clear that they were not going to be intimidated by big, bad UCLA and their mystique. Even the Gopher fans that came from Minneapolis started taunting UCLA fans. The Bruins would lead 38-34 at the half, and that set the stage for one of the worst chapters in NCAA history.

    At halftime, Coach Musselman was pleased with where they were in the game, but he kept encouraging them to be tougher and more physical on the defensive end. Bill told his players that UCLA never played a team like this that had an attitude. He said that the teams UCLA beat were soft creampuffs that would lay down for them and their mystique.

    In the second half, Minnesota turned up the defensive intensity, but Walton was able to still get his. The Bruins led throughout most of the second half, but were never able to pull away. Then, with about three minutes left, with UCLA up by five, Musselman called for his half-court press defense. The strategy paid off, and the Gophers would eventually get a 71-69 lead with 55 seconds remaining. At that time, all hell broke loose. Walton went up for a layup, and Corky Taylor and Ron Behagen nailed him with a vicious foul that caused Walton to land on his head, knocking him unconscious. Then, Ron Behagen stomped on his groin and head a few times, and Corky Taylor punched Jamaal Wilkes, who came to Bill's aid. Gopher fans then came out of the stands to join the melee and attack UCLA players and fans. Dave Winfield punched Henry Bibby a few times in the head and stomach, and as he fell, a Gopher fan kicked him. Then, Musselman and a fan confronted John Wooden, and a shoving match ensued between the two.

    It would take 45 minutes for the officials and the police to restore order. Walton and Bibby, along with several UCLA fans, had to be taken to the hospital for treatment. After the officials met, they decided to award the game to UCLA by forfeit. Musselman was furious, but it was the right decision. A few days later, after an investigation, Bill Musselman was banned from coaching in the NCAA for 20 years, and several of the Gopher players were banned from playing NCAA Basketball for good.

    As for Bill Walton, he was able to come back the next season and still lead UCLA to two more Final Fours and one more title, and go on to have an injury-riddled but good pro career, winning two titles with Portland and Boston. That situation still gives him nightmares, and he said that he had headaches for a short time after that. After a game in 1980, when he was with San Diego, and when Behagen and Musselman were with the Cavs as player and coach, he confronted them and called them punks and thugs that should be locked up and in jail. A shoving match between him and Behagen ensued, and Walton called him "a punk that can't fight anyone unless they are unconscious". He also got into a shoving match with Musselman, and some of his teammates had to separate them.

    The aftermath of this disaster was damaging in the short term for College Basketball. There already were brawls in the sport, like during a South Carolina-Marquette game earlier that season, and to have one like this on National TV in the biggest game of the year was deadly. NBC pulled the plug on the sport after that, and it was only shown regionally from then on for several years. It was only after the NCAA went about cleaning up the sport, and then after the landmark Bird-Magic 1979 NCAA final(that was shown on TVS but not network TV) that the networks decided to give the sport another try. CBS signed a national contract with the sport, and would begin to televise it in 1980-81. That, and the emergence of Cable TV networks like ESPN and USA, enabled the sport to recover from that incident, and to grow into popularity as the 80's went on.
  2. Chris Oakley Member Banned

    Jan 20, 2004
    I read about that game in The Worst Of Sports....
  3. AltSptHst Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2009

    Bill Musselman: One of the biggest ***holes in sports history. He is still a hated character in Los Angeles. When he came back as a Blazer assistant in 1999, he was booed when he came on the floor, and some people threw things at him. The most evil hoops coach of all-time.
  4. Ashland Ace New Member

    Apr 12, 2013
    The rest of the story

    I realize that this is an alternative history projection but as a witness to many of the Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball games during the Bill Musselman era I would take the poster to task for the reference to loud ACID ROCK blaring from the Williams Arena PA. Loud, absolutely; I remember hearing Keep the Ball Rollin' (Jay and the Techniques), Higher and Higher (Jackie Wilson), Sweet Georgia Brown (Brother Bones and His Shadows), Rubber band Man (Spinners), Na, Na, Hey, Hey... Goodbye (Steam), r&b, pop, ACID ROCK-maybe not. The pre-game show certainly did amp up the crowd and the atmosphere for this game was electric. The psychological aspect of the game is intriguing to me from Bill Musselman's perspective. He was an Ohio native, a young coach who achieved success at a small Ohio college (Ashland) who was competing against a coaching legend in Fred Taylor (numerous big ten titles, a national championship, multiple final four appearances) and an outstanding Buckeye team lead by Allan Hornyak and Luke Witte. With success, often comes the perception of arrogance on the part of the coach and the team. So it was on this night: the upstart against the legend, the underdog against the favorite. Did Musselman convey to his team how important a victory over this storied Ohio State program meant to him? In all likelihood he did and when it became apparent, late in the game, that the Gophers would not win; disappointment led to anger and frustration and ultimately to tragedy as numerous Ohio State players were assaulted by Minnesota players and fans. Could such an event have occurred in a national championship contest? I suppose it is possible but I think for Bill Musselman on this night in Minneapolis, competing against this coach and this team; it was intensely personal. I believe the players and the crowd knew that as well. It would be easy to demonize a coach and his players following such an infamous event but this story ends not in bitterness and recrimination but in reconciliation. http://www.osusilverbullet.com/4/post/2012/06/luke-witte-40-years-later-part-two.html
  5. AltSptHst Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2009
    Yeah, I did read about the reconciliation before. I am glad that those people made up after what happened.
  6. Kalvan Well-Known Member

    Jun 28, 2010
    Well, in a timeline I have perpetually in development, Minnesota-Duluth, coached by an up-and-coming Lute Olson, won the Division 1 championship in 1972 (Long Story) against Minnesota, and the Minnesota legistlature promptly booted Olson out of the coaching position, tried to get Minnesota-Duluth bumped down to Division II, and framed the Bulldog athletic department (rather transparently) for various infractions and tried to get them the "death penalty."

    Is this plausible of the time, or was the thuggishness strictly on the court?
  7. AltSptHst Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2009
    I think that the thuggishness was strictly on the court, but as far as them both being in the title game is concerned, there is one problem: UCLA.