For all of Elvin Hayes’ accomplishments at Houston — leading the Cougars to a pair of Final Fours, scoring and rebounding at an amazing clip, helping turn the program into a national power — he’s largely remembered for one game.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
On Jan. 29, 1968, Houston defeated UCLA 71-69 before 52,693 in the Astrodome. Never had such a crowd assembled for college basketball, and the Cougars’ victory snapped the Bruins’ 47-game winning streak.
Hayes was spectacular, with 39 points and 15 rebounds while helping hold UCLA All-American Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to 15 points.
“You know, I could name games where I played much better,” said Hayes, who was part of Sunday’s National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The Midland as a member of the founding class.
Indeed, Hayes averaged 36.8 points and 18.9 rebounds as a senior in 1968. He topped 50 points on a few occasions and grabbed 37 rebounds in one game.
“But it’s all right,” Hayes said. “After that UCLA game, I was known more in the public. It helped people know who I was.”
Hayes was a cornerstone for some of the great college teams in the 1960s. Recruited by coach Guy Lewis, Hayes arrived from Rayville, La., and he and Don Chaney were the first African-Americans to play at Houston. The Cougars weren’t part of the Southwest Conference then, but heading east from Houston, schools across the South were not integrated.
Hayes had to relocate if he wanted to play major college basketball. Wisconsin recruited him, and Hayes considered making the long trek north. Most who went to college in his family attended Southern University, and Hayes could have played there.
Historically black colleges had good basketball, as those who attended NAIA tournaments in Kansas City knew. Grambling brought Willis Reed to Municipal Auditorium; Texas Pan-American arrived with Luke Jackson.
But Hayes and Chaney, from Baton Rouge, chose Houston. And on a January day in 1968, they put college basketball on the map.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.