HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- NRG Stadium may be the center of college basketball in 2023, but 52 years ago, the Astrodome was the focus when Houston hosted the National Collegiate Basketball Championships for the first time in 1971.
John Wooden's UCLA dynasty was back in the dome vying for its fifth straight championship. They battled against fellow heavyweight Villanova.
Billy Hawkins, a professor at the University of Houston, says having these high-caliber teams of the time in town showed Houston was a big player in college basketball.
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"It speaks to the city of Houston and its capability to host high-caliber events," Hawkins said. "That's when you start to see the city of Houston become a major sports town."
In the end, UCLA won the championship, winning 68-62. The Bruins once again raised the trophy on the Astrodome floor.
The Dome itself was an attraction for the NCAA tournament to come to Houston, but it also proved not be the ideal basketball facility, mostly because of its size and the fact that the court was raised 4 feet above the ground.
"When you think about basketball, intimacy is very important, so how the stadium had to be converted to accommodate, that was unusual," Hawkins said.
Five decades later, the floor from the 1971 championship game is on display at 8th Wonder Brewery. Long after the Bruins cut down the nets, the floor shows its age but is still a conversation starter and carries long-lasting memories.
"It's definitely a really cool piece of sports history, college basketball history, Houston history," Ryan Soroka, the co-owner of the 8th Wonder Brewery, said.
The 1971 championship was a predecessor to the Final Four, but the fact that it was played in the Astrodome showed the stage that the tournament could be on and began the standard for the March Madness we know today.
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