The long-awaited showdown in the men's high jump between American Leo Williams and Canadian Milt Ottey never materialized tonight. Ottey failed to clear 2.23 meters at the World University Games, resulting in stunned silence at Commonwealth Stadium.

Ottey, ranked No. 1 in the world last year, was pretty silent himself. He walked over to Williams, who was already in a rare struggle with his opening jumps, and said, "Leo, it's not supposed to happen like this."

Williams cleared 2.23 meters (7 feet, 3 3/4 inches), but couldn't clear 2.26 (7-5). "We just cried on each other's shoulders," said Williams, who is from the Naval Academy.

The high jump was eventually won by Igor Paklin, a former world record holder and gold medalist in the 1976 Olympics. He finished at 2.31 (7-8 1/2) and was followed by Eddy Annys of Belgium (2.29). Williams finished eighth; Ottey was 11th of 20 finalists.

It was a poor day for the Americans overall, except for Ralph Spry of Severn, Md., who won a silver medal in the men's long jump. Most noteworthy, the U.S. women's basketball team, which had been favored to win the gold, was upset by Romania, 87-71.

With four days left in the competition, the U.S. contingent was headed for its worst performance ever in these games, since entering them for the first time 18 years ago. Its lowest gold medal total--14--came in 1965 in Bucharest.

After tonight's events, the Soviet Union had 42 golds, 19 silvers and 16 bronze for a total of 77 medals. The United States was still running second with a total of 30 medals--14 silver and 13 bronze.

The United States failed to win any of the seven track and field golds. However, three Nigerians who attend U.S. colleges took only a few hours tonight to match the Americans' total of three golds.

In the men's 100 meters, Sam Graddy of Tennessee won the bronze, but was overtaken in the last 25 meters by Chidi Imoh of Nigeria and the University of Missouri, who won with a time of 10.33. In the men's 400 meters, American Sunder Nix, the favorite, finished third behind Sunday Uti, who attends Iowa State. Uti's time was 45.32 and Nix's was 45.53.

The third Nigerian to win a gold was Yussuf Alli, a senior at Missouri, who was first in the men's long jump at 26-11 1/4.

Benita Fitzgerald of Tennessee and Gar-Field High School in Dale City, Va., won the bronze in the women's 100-meter hurdles with a time of 13.24, finishing behind Russians Elena Biserova and Natalia Petrova, who won the gold.

As Williams said, "It just wasn't a good day for the Americans and I don't know what to attribute it to."

Williams started slowly, needing two jumps at 2.15 meters and 2.20. He cleared 2.23 on the first try, but realized the struggle was on.

"I regrouped at 2.23. But on the last jump and 2.26, it just wasn't there," Williams said. "I was having trouble on the soft surface, especially coming off a hard surface last week at the Sports Festival. On that third jump, I just didn't juice it."

Williams reluctantly said he is probably a victim of burnout, having competed in six meets since the first week of June. "Being the defending champion, I wanted to compete and win here," Williams said. "Nobody put a gun to my head and said, 'Leo, you have to compete here.' But when I got behind in the early jumps I knew it was telling me, 'Leo, you need some rest, boy. Go home and have some of Mama's good cooking.' "

Bruce Hayes of UCLA, one of the three gold medalists for the United States, earned a bronze in the men's 1,500-meter freestyle. He finished third behind Soviet Vladimir Salnikov, who lowered the Games record by more than 20 seconds to 15:02.83.

It was the first defeat in six games for the U.S. women's basketball team, which committed 22 turnovers to Romania's 14. Perhaps most important, the Romanians destroyed the U.S. zone with accurate perimeter shooting.

"We still have a shot at it (the gold)," said U.S. Coach Jill Hutchison. "We just have a tougher road through Yugoslavia to reach the finals."