Quinn Buckner, Bobby Wilkerson, Kent Benson, Tom Abernathy and Scott May. For 15 years, those have been the first five names in the boxscore of college basketball's last unbeaten team. Remember them.
In another month, the names could be Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony, George Ackles, Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson as top-ranked UNLV challenges the 32-0 record of the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers."We still talk about it and laugh," Wilkerson said. "And we think of all the guys we played against who thought they had pretty good teams, and we beat them. They can say what they want, but we kicked their butts in college."
Since 1976, other schools have flirted with perfection, including Indiana State, which didn't lose until the national championship game against Michigan State in 1979. Now, UNLV not only has a shot at being undefeated, but also at becoming the first repeat NCAA champion since UCLA in 1973.
"No question about it," Buckner said. "They've got a shot."
It won't be easy, though, and nobody knows that better than Buckner, Wilkerson, Benson, Abernathy, May & Co. All five of the starters went on to the NBA for at least 5 years, and many of them now are in coaching. For a decade and a half, they've reveled in it, and they recognize what it takes. For them, it was a special mix of talent, poise, motivation, luck and coaching that carried them to that unforgettable season.
"You've got to have a couple of things to go undefeated," said Buckner, the captain of that team and now a TV sportscaster. "Some you can control. Some you can't. First, you've got to be lucky and avoid injuries. That's what got us into trouble in 1975."
The Hoosiers might have had a better team the year before their perfect season. They went 31-1 and rolled up some pretty big winning margins, like 74-48 over Michigan, 104-71 over Purdue, 98-74 over Kentucky. But May, the Hoosiers' leading scorer, broke his arm late in the season, and Indiana wound up losing in the third game of the tournament, 92-90, in its second meeting with Kentucky.
"That's when we made the commitment to win it all, after that game," said Wilkerson, an assistant coach first at Colorado and now at Maryland-Eastern Shore. "Our quest started the year before, and from then on, whenever we accomplished a milestone, we'd just say: `It ain't over yet.' We never celebrated until after we won the national championship."
The end result might have been perfect, but there were some bumps in the road to the title: an overtime game against Kentucky in the fourth game of the season, another overtime victory over Michigan later on, and a 3-point win over Purdue. But the Hoosiers didn't give a thought to bungling it, until maybe the title game against Michigan.
"I can't remember us ever worrying about being undefeated," said Jim Crews, one of the reserves on the team who later became a Bob Knight assistant at Indiana and later head coach at Evansville. "The only thing I can remember is coach Knight saying: `Do we have to lose to re-establish ourselves? Do we have to lose to re-energize? Do we have to lose to learn a lesson?' He thought that was ridiculous.
"The only time we thought it might be going down the drain was halftime of the Michigan game, but we got that quickly resolved."
After beating Michigan twice during the season, the Hoosiers trailed by 6 points at halftime of the big game and were playing without starting guard Wilkerson, who sustained a concussion earlier in the game. But May and Benson led a 10-point run that turned the game into a rout, and Indiana won 86-68.
"I remember in the locker room before the Michigan game, here we were 31-0, and we had beaten them twice already that year and twice the year before," Crews said. "Everyone in the country knew we were better than they were, and they knew it. But we also knew they could beat us on a given day, and we had to play them once more. It almost didn't seem fair."
There may have been one brief letdown during the season, one fluctuation in the team's focus, "when we weren't playing to win, we were playing not to lose," Crews said.
Knight recognized it and benched Buckner, the team's playmaker.
"I remember that very vividly," said Benson, now in business in the Bloomington, Ind., area. "That shows the tremendous coaching ability and expertise Knight has, to know how and when to do that."
Now, Buckner can admit it was true. "I wouldn't admit that to myself at the time, but I wasn't playing very well," he said. "Coach Knight benched me for two games. It was a way of snapping us back to reality. Coach felt we would do well from the beginning, and he was going to drive us to it."
No team can be driven farther than its talent will take it, though, and Indiana had the talent.
"You've got to have the horses, I don't care what anybody tells you," Buckner said. "You've got to have players commited to winning, and people who are willing to fill roles. As much as I thought I should be scoring, I knew I was never going to be the leading scorer.
"You see that, too, with UNLV. Larry is the first option inside on offense. Hunt is the first option outside. The other three guys kind of garbage themselves into the offense. When guys start worrying about who's taking the shots and who's getting the ink, that's the beginning of the end."
And if UNLV does go undefeated? The unbeatean Indianas don't seem particularly worried, even if they do.
"I'm just really proud to have been a part of it - to have been a part of that team, with those teammates," Benson said. "There was a tremendous unity and still is. We were a family."