NEW YORK — When UCLA and Houston met 20 years ago tonight at the Astrodome, the college basketball world stood still.
The game brought together the top-ranked UCLA Bruins and their star center, Lew Alcindor, and the No. 2 Houston Cougars, led by Elvin Hayes.
The game drew a record crowd of 52,693 in a building that had never entertained the sport before and was watched by a television audience larger than for any sporting event up to that time.
Hayes made two free throws with 28 seconds to play, giving Houston a 71-69 victory that snapped UCLA's 47-game winning streak, the second-longest in college basketball history at the time.
"It was a spectacular more than anything else," retired UCLA coach John Wooden said. "Neither team played well, according to their capabilities, but that was understandable."
A crowd still the largest to see a regular-season game and trailing only the Final Four crowds in the Louisiana Superdome on the all-time attendance list, was on hand. and Wooden said the teams were aware of that.
"That game had the largest live audience ever to see a game, and I'm told it had the largest viewing audience of any sporting event until that time. The impact that game had on television has become part of basketball," Wooden said. "That made it a bit of a spectacular. And add to it two unbeaten teams, each with a superstar, and that added a lot of sense of drama to it."
Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, said the crowd is one of his lasting memories of the game.
"The lighting was real strange and nobody was within 100 yards of the court. It was strange circumstances with this huge crowd so far away," he said.
Abdul-Jabbar had problems shooting even without the added impediment of special spotlights which shown down on each basket to improve the lighting for TV.
"I spent the whole previous week in an eye clinic, in a dark room," he said, referring to the eye injury that had kept him out of the two games just before the showdown. "I suffered most in conditioning."
That affected his shooting and he made only 4 of 18 shots.
UCLA, which was led by Lucious Allen's 25 points, made 26 of 77 shots from the field and Houston, which led, 46-43, at halftime and never by more than five in the second half, made 30 of 66.
As poorly as Abdul-Jabbar shot, Hayes was on target. He finished with 39 points, 29 in the first half, and he made 17 of 25 shots and grabbed 15 rebounds.
"The game wasn't really well played, other than by Elvin," Abdul-Jabbar said.