Best Team Ever: 1972-73 UCLA crowned champ in men's college basketball

Welcome to the Best Team Ever bracket series, where the greatest of all time have their most dominant seasons stacked up against each other until we ultimately crown a champion in each sport. The tournament was decided by fan vote or the past couple weeks. Check out the first round of voting here, the second round of voting here, the Final Four voting here and the championship voting here.

John Wooden’s team cruised through our Best Team Ever tournament, crushing every team they faced with a convincing amount of votes. Michael Jordan and the 1982-83 North Carolina Tar Heels were no exception in the final matchup. UCLA won with a commanding 69 percent of votes. 

In the rounds prior to the championship, this undefeated Bruins team was too much for teams like the 1983 Houston Cougars led by Hakeem Olajuwon and the 2003 Syracuse team with Carmelo Anthony’s dominant tournament performance. 

Let’s take a look at what makes this team so special 47 years later, starting with head coach John Wooden. In his 27 years at UCLA, he won 10 national titles. That’s twice as many championships as Mike Krzyzewski has at Duke. During UCLA’s glory days, the Bruins set a new NCAA record of 75 consecutive wins, only losing one game in three seasons. Coach Wooden finished his career with an impressive record of 664 wins and 162 losses. This 1973 national championship was his seventh consecutive title and UCLA won 10 titles in 12 years. Wooden is one of the greatest coaches of all time and his legacy will live on for years to come. 

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is shown talking to his team during a timeout during their victory in the NCAA finals against Memphis State. (AP)

The star player for this UCLA team was Bill Walton. In the 1973 title game against Memphis State, Walton had one of the greatest performances in NCAA history, scoring 44 points and going 21 for 22 from the field. He added 13 rebounds as UCLA won convincingly, 87-66. Wooden told Walton after the game, “I used to think you were a good player … until you missed that one shot.”

Walton won almost every single award that year, including the Naismith College Player of the Year, NCAA Tournament MVP, James E. Sullivan Award, USBWA College Player of the Year and the Adolph Rupp Trophy. On top of his accolades for this season, Walton is still the all-time leader for rebounds in UCLA history with 506 rebounds. If that wasn’t enough, he was the No. 1 pick in the 1974 NBA draft and went on to play 13 years in the NBA, winning two titles.

Playing alongside Walton at UCLA were Larry Farmer and Larry Holyfield, who went on to be the only duo in college basketball to finish a three-year run of 89-1. During their senior year, Farmer averaged 12.2 points per game and Holyfield averaged 10.2 points per game. Holyfield had one of the most impressive amateur careers ever, going 184-1 and winning a championship for six years straight from the time he was a junior in high school. 

This team was special and clearly spans generations of college basketball fans. To see a team like the 1973 UCLA team still receive the recognition of one of the greatest teams of all time speaks volumes to that era of basketball. The last time we saw a team go undefeated in the regular season and win a national title happened a few years later in 1976 with Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. No team has ever been able to match this UCLA squad in history and they will continue to dominate the discussion in years to come. 

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