On Saturday, Jan. 23, 1971, #9 Notre Dame outlasted #1 UCLA 89-82 in South Bend. A week later at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins got back on the winning track with a 74-61 victory over UC-Santa Barbara. And they’d run over every opponent thereafter en route to the 1971 NCAA Championship … and the 1972 title … and the 1973 title … and the first 13 contests of the 1973-74 season.
Eighty-eight games in all, including clobbering Notre Dame four times in that span by an average of 32 points.
It seemed a similar tune would play on Jan. 19, 1974, when the Bruins trekked to South Bend for another meeting. After all, it had been 1,092 days since UCLA had last suffered defeat and the Bruins’ roster featured eight NBA players, including superstar seniors Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes.
During Notre Dame’s pre-game Mass, the Rev. Edmund Joyce told the Irish team: “This is not just an ordinary day. The chances are good that years from now you will look back on this day as one of the most memorable in your life.”
And it would be.
Down 70-59 with 3:32 to play, the Irish closed the game on a 12-0 run and turned away the Bruins three times in the final seconds. UCLA’s historic 88-game winning streak – something never matched before or since – died.
Though UCLA pounded Notre Dame 94-75 at Pauley Pavilion one week later, the sting of that loss to Notre Dame lingers decades later for some. In an HBO documentary about the UCLA dynasty, Walton opined: “I look back at my college career as one of frustration, disappointment, and ultimate embarrassment. … I will never be able to erase the stigma and the stain from my soul about what could have been. It could have been perfect.”