January 27, 1973, 50 years ago today: Keith Wilkes scores 20 points and Bill Walton adds 16 as UCLA breaks the college basketball record for longest winning streak, notching its 61st victory in a row in an 82-63 win at Notre Dame.The Bruins were in the midst of the greatest run of success in college hoops history—10 national championships in 12 years under legendary coach John Wooden.
The streak began innocently enough on January 30, 1971, with a nondescript 74-61 win over UC Santa Barbara. Ironically, UCLA had started that week with an 89-82 loss at Notre Dame that saw Fighting Irish star Austin Carr pour in 46 points. And the streak would end on the same South Bend court in early 1974 after being stretched to 88 games and 1,084 days. Included were wins in three national championship games, and victories over 45 different schools, including 15 who today own national titles themselves.
The early days of the streak were shaky as the Bruins got into Pac 8 play. The next game was a 64-60 win over USC in which the Bruins had to rally from a nine-point deficit with seven minutes to go. They were victorious by one point at Oregon, by two at Oregon State, by four at Washington State and by two at Washington. But Wooden’s recruiting prowess changed the narrative the following year. Walton and Wilkes arrived, and UCLA was utterly dominant for a long stretch, going 30-0 in 1971-72 and winning all but two games by double-digits.
By the time the 88-game run ended, Walton and Wilkes had won 73 of them together, with only seven wins by single digits and only two by five points or less. The second-longest Division I winning streak is held by San Francisco, who nabbed 60 straight from 1955-57 with Bill Russell at center. Third is UCLA at 47 games from 1966-68 under Wooden. And fourth is UNLV with a 45-game streak from 1990-91 under Jerry Tarkanian.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)