Bill Walton, a three-time National Player of the Year and a key member in UCLA’s dynasty under John Wooden, was one of the greatest men’s college basketball players ever. Here’s everything you need to know about Walton’s time with the Bruins.
The vitals for Bill Walton
Weight: 210 pounds
Years active: 1971-74
NCAA tournament record: 11-1
College averages: 20.3 points per game, 15.7 rebounds per game, 65.1% field goal shooting
What was Bill Walton’s record in college?
A story published in The Terre Haute Tribune on March 24, 1972 noted that Walton hadn’t lost a game since he was a sophomore in high school in 1967.
UCLA was 86-4 during Bill Walton’s three years of college with the center starting his college career 73-0. Walton’s only four losses came in his senior year (Notre Dame, Oregon State, Oregon and then NC State in the NCAA tournament).
What was Bill Walton’s offensive game like?
The Terre Haute Tribune noted that Walton “doesn’t shoot all over the place.” But that led to extreme efficiency.
In a Final Four game against Louisville in the 1972 NCAA tournament, Walton was 11-of-15 from the field, scoring 33 points to go along with 21 rebounds. He had 24 and 16 at halftime.
The Associated Press noted that Walton was double-teamed for most of the game, too.
After the game, Louisville coach Denny Crum told reporters, “I think this is the best UCLA team ever.”
UCLA’s 1971-72 squad quickly became nicknamed “Walton’s Gang,” in honor of the 6-11 sophomore. The craziest part?
We’ll let The Daily Herald explain:
“Walton has averaged 21.3 points per game and 15.5 rebounds per game, despite riding the bench much of the time after the starters had built insurmountable leads,” wrote The Daily Herald‘s sports editor Joe Watts.
Walton led UCLA in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage for three consecutive years:
- 1971-72: 21.1 points, 15.5 rebounds, 63.9% field goal shooting
- 1972-73: 20.4 points, 16.9 rebounds, 65.0% field goal shooting
- 1973-74: 19.3 points, 14.7 rebounds, 66.5% field goal shooting
No sophomore, junior or senior in UCLA history has averaged more rebounds per game, respectively, than when Walton was a sophomore, junior and senior.
He even led the Bruins in assists in 1974 with 5.48 assists per game.
That’s because offensively, Walton played a key role in transition. “Walton … started UCLA’s famed fast break with quick outlet passes,” noted the AP. Wooden said Walton is the best center he had ever seen in throwing outlet passes.
Walton once had a triple-double against SMU with 25 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists.
The following series of photographs in The Daily Herald (Provo, UT) show Walton’s technique of grabbing a rebound, holding the ball high over his head and throwing a two-handed overhead pass to a teammate.
What were some of Bill Walton’s best games in college?
Walton’s most famous college performance was a 44-point outburst in the 1973 NCAA tournament national championship against Memphis State, when he made 21-of-22 field goal attempts. He did all that in just 33 minutes, too.
After the game, famous basketball journalist Dick Weiss of the Courier-Post (Camden, N.J.) wrote, “How could any team lose with Bill Walton on its roster? Bill Walton is a 6-11 junior center from Helix, Calif. who is the best college basketball player ever. Period.”
Walton scored eight of UCLA’s first 12 points in the game and never looked back.
Walton scored in a variety of ways against Memphis State. There were running jump hooks and short jumpers off the glass. In fact, the number of jumpers he made outside of the lane might be the most impressive part of his 44-point, 95-percent shooting performance. It’s not like he attempted 22 dunks, and still, he missed only once all game.
The one miss?
It came after a high lob.
Even on his layups and dunks, Walton was incredibly active in his setup and footwork on the low block.
He may not have been fast in the traditional sense at 6-11, 210 pounds, but he was quick. He’d dart across the lane to establish position or to catch a sleeping defender off-guard on his way to the rim. He utilized shot fakes and refined post moves to get clean looks. Walton would takes passes that weren’t necessarily intended to be alley-oops and he score an alley-oop layup off of them.
When UCLA led Memphis State 35-30, Walton wasn’t that far behind the Tigers with his individual point total of 20.
Watch the incredible performance for yourself:
The fact that Walton once scored 44 points in an NCAA tournament title game while nearly being perfect from the field completely reframes the discussion about his greatest games.
What other performance could possibly come close to that?
Well, he scored at least 20 points in five other NCAA tournament games, including two 20-point, 20-rebound games in the 1972 NCAA tournament. As we mentioned earlier, Walton had 33 points and 21 rebounds against Louisville in the national semifinal, then he had 24 and 20 against Florida State in the national championship game.
In Walton’s only NCAA tournament loss of his career, a double-overtime thriller against N.C. State, he still had 29 points and 18 rebounds while playing all 50 minutes, so he sure did his part to keep the Bruins in the game.
What awards did Bill Walton win in college?
Bill Walton won the following awards and honors:
- 1972 West Regional Team
- 1972 Most Outstanding Player
- 1972 All-Tournament Team
- 1972 Consensus All-American
- 1972 National Player of the Year
- 1973 West Regional Team
- 1973 Most Outstanding Player
- 1973 All-Tournament Team
- 1973 Consensus All-American
- 1973 National Player of the Year
- 1974 West Regional Team
- 1974 All-Tournament Team
- 1974 Consensus All-American
- 1974 National Player of the Year
- 1970s All-Decade Team
- One of the top 15 players honored in th e75 Years of March Madness Celebration
What records did Bill Walton set in college and where does he rank among historical greats?
- The most points scored in an NCAA tournament championship game: 44 points (1973)
- The most field goals in an NCAA tournament championship game: 21 (1973)
- UCLA’s all-time leader in career rebounds: 1,370 rebounds
- UCLA’s all-time leader in career rebounds per game (min. 60 games): 15.7 rebounds per game
- UCLA-record 48 games with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds
- First, tied for second and eighth on UCLA’s single-season rebounds per game list: 16.9 rpg, 15.5 rpg, 14.7 rpg
- Second all-time in field goal percentage in two games at a Final Four: 82.4% (1973)
- Tied for second all-time in two games at a Final Four: 41 (1972)
- Tied for second, tied for fourth all-time in UCLA history in single-game rebounds: 27 (twice), 24 (three times)
- Second in UCLA history in career field goal percentage: 65.1%
- Second in UCLA history in career double-doubles: 72 double-doubles
- Second in UCLA history in 20-rebound games: 19 games
- Tied for third all-time in field goals in two games at a Final Four: 28 (173)
- Third in UCLA history in career scoring average (min. 60 games): 20.3 points per game
- Fourth, tied for fifth in rebounds in an NCAA tournament semifinal: 18 (1974), 17 (1973)
- Tied for fourth all-time in rebounds in an NCAA tournament championship game: 20 (1972)
- Fourth in UCLA history in field goals made: 747
- Fifth all-time in most rebounds in a season: 506 rebounds in 1973
- Sixth all-time in highest rebound average in a season: 16.9 rebounds per game in 1973
- Thirteenth all-time in career field goal percentage: 65.1 percent
- Nineteenth and 24th on UCLA’s all-time single-season scoring average list: 21.1 ppg (1972), 20.4 ppg (1973)
- Tied for 18th all-time for most double-doubles in a season: 27 (in 30 games) in 1973
- Tied for 21st all-time for most double-doubles in a career: 72 double-doubles
- Tied for 22nd all-time in most rebounds in a game since 1973: 27 rebounds against Loyola Chicago and Maryland in 1973
- Tied for 27th all-time in consecutive double-doubles in a season: 15 consecutive double-doubles in 1971-72
What did people say about Bill Walton?
Louisville coach Denny Crum: “Bill Walton is just amazing. He creates so many problems. The only way to beat UCLA is to keep Walton from getting the ball and there’s really no way to do it — at least with our personnel.”
UCLA coach John Wooden: “There have only been two men I have coached that could have played on the varsity in their freshman years — Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.”
Wooden, after Walton’s 44-point performance in the national championship: “For Bill, I believe this was the only time this season I’ve seen him so emotionally ready to play. I’m very proud of this team. Perhaps, I’ve never had a better team when you consider both offense and defense. This was a team achievement and was built around Walton but we’d be foolish not to go to him.”
Florida State coach Hugh Durham: “If you run against them, you might catch Walton away from the basket but if you slow down, he’ll be there and gobble everything up.”
Memphis State coach Murray Bartow, prior to the 1973 national championship game: “Anyone who runs with UCLA is going to lose. I don’t think anyone can get in a run-and-shoot contest with them and win — not us, not the Boston Celtics, not anyone.”
Bartow, after the 1973 national championship game: “Walton… Walton… Walton … We couldn’t contain Walton. I’ve never seen a player so dominating as Walton. He is big and strong and wirey. We worked to push him out farther. We couldn’t get him out. If you let him have the ball around the basket, you’re dead. We found that out.”
unattributed (1972): “If you rate all the teams in the country you would have to rate it in the following order: the Los Angeles Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the UCLA Bruins.”