UH vs. UCLA in 1968: Elvin Hayes remembers leading Cougars in first big college basketball game

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Thursday, March 30, 2023
Elvin Hayes remembers leading the Cougars to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 1967 and 1968. Why he says this was a game-changer for college basketball.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The game was different 55 years ago. Some news film was still in black and white, and college basketball in the South was just about all white.

Houston head coach Guy V. Lewis' recruitment of the first African-American student-athletes to play at UH, Elvin Hayes, and Don Chaney would change the face of college basketball in the region.

Hayes remembers his recruitment.

"Coach went over to Baton Rouge to recruit Don. Coach Pate came up to Northern Louisiana to recruit me," he said.

"Don wanted to go to Loyola Chicago. I wanted to go to Wisconsin. Don said, 'Hey, why don't we go here?' And I said, 'Hey, let's do it,'" Hayes continued.

Hayes and Chaney would lead the Cougars to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 1967 and 1968.

Both times, UH ran into and lost to the kings of the college court - UCLA and Kareem Abdul Jabber, then known as Lew Alcindor.

They were still great memories for Hayes and the Cougars. "We were so excited to get there. We played in Louisville but we ran into our nemesis, UCLA," Hayes recalled.

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The Cougars would lose to UCLA in the '67 Final Four. But before they even left Louisville, coach Lewis told his team about his idea for the biggest college basketball game to ever be played.

The game of the century would be played on Jan. 20, 1968, in front of more than 52,000 fans. It was a rematch against UCLA in the Astrodome.

"Coach said after we lost to them, 'How would you like to play these guys next year?'" Hayes recalled. "We thought we were going to meet them the next year in the tournament."

"Coach said, 'No, we were going to play them in the Astrodome in the regular season.' We looked around and said, 'In the Astrodome?'" he said.

That game put college basketball on the map. It was the first game to be nationally televised.

"Back then, no college or pro game was nationally televised. It was great to play in it," Hayes said.

Hayes would dominate Lew Alcindor, scoring 39 points with 15 rebounds.

"It was my night," he said.

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