The final act of the 1980 drama that is the NCAA basketball tournament will begin at 9:17 p.m. Monday (WRC TV-4) when UCLA and Louisville take the court to play for the national title.
On stage will be two young, quick, confident teams. Directing them from the wings will be two men who worship at the John Wooden Shrine of coaching.
"Of course a lot of what I do is taken from Coach Wooden," Louisville's Denny Crum, a former ULCA assistant, said today. "When you've half a chance to play and work under the greatest coach in history you'd be foolish not to use what you learn from him."
UCLA Coach Larry Brown, the third man to try to succeed the legend that is Wooden in Westwood, never played for or coached under Wooden. Yet he talks about him constantly.
"John Wooden is UCLA," Brown said "I'd feel a lot better about tomorrow if he was going to be sitting on the bench next to me."
Wooden will be sitting on the other side of Market Square Arena, in the UCLA section, watching the Bruins attempt to win their 11th national title, first since 1975. For Louisville, favored by three points, this is the first appearance in the national final. Crum twice previously has brought teams to the final four, losing to UCLA in the semifinals in both 1972 and 1975.
Although this year's teams have taken different routes to this showdown, their players are similar in size and quickness. And each has one intangible going for it.
For Louisville (32-3) the intangible is Darrell Griffith. The senior guard with the springs for legs scored 34 points against Iowa Saturday and made it look easy. He is capable of coming up with the kind of game Kentucky's Jack Givens put together in the championship two years ago when he scored 41 points against Duke. When Griffith gets in a groove, few can stop him. UCLA must hope he has a merely mortal night.
For UCLA (22-9) the intangible is, quite simply, the four letters -- U-C-L-A -- stitched on their uniforms. There has been a great deal of talk here about the "UCLA mystique," the Bruins' 10 national titles and virtual ownership of the final four from 1963 to 1975.
"The last time UCLA won a national title was 1975," Crum said, scoffing at the mystique "None of our kids were in college then, some of them weren't even in high school.
"The UCLA mystique was John Wooden. He's not the coach anymore. What happened five, 10 or 15 years ago isn't going to have any effect on the outcome tomorrow night."
Ironically, Crum could have been on the other bench for this game. A 1958 UCLA graduate, he was an assistant under Wooden before moving to Louisville in 1972. Three years ago, when Gene Bartow resigned, Crum was offered the UCLA job. He turned it down because he had come to enjoy the Louisville life style (he lives on a huge farm outside town) and because Griffith had three years of eligibility left.
But even with Grifffith, the Cardinals did not appear headed for this final four. In their third game of the season, staring center Scooter McCray went down with a knee injury.
Suddenly, Crum found himself starting Griffith, three sophomores and a freshman, 6-foot-7 Rodney McCray, Scooter's younger brother.
Instead of struggling, the Cardinals took off. With the 6-4 Griffith clearly established as the leader and the front line of McCray and sophomore forwards Derek Smith and Wiley Brown working hard in support, Louisville climbed steadily in the polls after two December losses.
Although he had averaged 23 wins for eight seasons as Louisiville coach, Crum frequently had been criticized for failing to win big games, for having superb talent he could not get to play together.
This team has won big games and plays beautifully as a unit. As point guard Jerry Eaves said today, "We all have it easy, we just watch Darrell play."
Clearly, Eaves and the others will have to do more than just watch Griffith play if they are to beat UCLA, a team touched by some form of magic in this tournament.
"I'd like to thank the NCAA for expanding its field to 48 teams this year so we could make the tournament from fourth place in our league," Brown joked. "If I were playing we wouldn't be here. These kids are the ones who never stopped believing in themselves."
UCLA is deceiving. At first glance, it seems as if the two senior starters, James Wilkes and Kiki Vandeweghe, are mere shadows of predecessors like David Greenwood, Dave Myers Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks.
Vandeweghe, the 6-8 forward who leads the team in scoring with a 19.6 average, is so soft-spoken off the court that it is difficult to imagine him going straight at Purdue's 7-1 strongman Joe Barry Carroll for three dunks, as he did Saturday.
Wilkes has averaged only 7.8 points in the playoffs. Yet, for most of the tournament, he has been as important to the Bruins as anyone because of his defense. At 6-7, he may be the man eventually assigned to guard Griffith.
Sophomore center Mike Sanders, only 6-6, may be the most underrated player on the team. "He should have been starting from day one," Brown said today. "I kept him on the bench the first half of the year because he's such a great kid I knew he wouldn't complain."
Sanders averaged 11.3 points in the regular season and 5.9 rebounds. His numbers are 15.8 and 10.8 in the tournament.
Finally, there are the freshmen guards -- "the wackos" as Brown calls them -- Rod Foster, Michael Holton and, off the bench, Darren Daye. All can fly and they ooze confidence.
And, whether Crum admits it or not, there is the mystique.
"Having UCLA on our uniforms helps us," Vandegeghe said. "It may not affect the other team in tight situations but it helps us. We all know what UCLA had done in the past."
With Sanders and McCray in the middle, and no starter on either team taller than 6-8, quickness, not power, will decide this game.
Both teams love to run, so the tempo should be breathtaking for 40 minutes.
There is one major difference: Louisville will press full court the entire game. "If they saw us try to handle Purdue's press they'll pick us up coming out of the locker room," Brown cracked. UCLA will not press. It will play defense for 50 feet and try to deny Griffith the ball.
"There is a way to stop him, I think," Iowa Coach Lute Olson said. "You tie a ball and chain to each leg. If you just do it to one leg, he'll still score."
Brown conceded that Griffith will score. He hopes to make the human helicopter work for his points, press for every shot.
"I hope it's a running game," said Griffith, averaging 22.9 points for the season. "That's our game. We like to run, play a fast game."
So this championship game will be 40 minutes, all out, for a large slice of glory and a small piece of history. If the matchups -- and the intangibles -- are as even as they appear, this final act of college basketball easily could be its most dramatic.