Former Drake Player Looks Back on 1969 Near-Upset of UCLA

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WEST DES MOINES -- Rick Wanamaker wasn’t sure anything would change.

“UCLA won the national title just about every year,” said Wanamaker. “We were just happy to be there.”

But the Bulldogs gave the mighty Bruins all they could handle.

“Somehow we realized we could play with them, and we started playing to win,” Wanamaker recalls.

On his 21st birthday, Wanamaker was coming up big. And not just on offense. A big block of Lew Alcindor in the second half helped spark the Bulldogs.

“It kind of caught me off guard,” said Wanamaker. “I thought I was a good jumper, but do you think you’re going to block Lew Alcindor’s shot? That just never happened. It was certainly the highlight of my basketball career.”

Drake was down 83-74 with just over a minute left, but one final flurry nearly led the Bulldogs to a monumental upset.

“Willie McCarter, who had a really poor shooting night, ended up making seven points in a row. Then he took a wild shot with eight seconds to go. It fell in Dolph Pulliam’s hands, who put it in, cutting the lead to one point.”

But the Bulldogs were forced to foul, and ran out of time. UCLA 85, Drake 82.

“Losing that game would be the best game I ever played in,” said Wanamaker. “You hate to lose. The ones you lose are the ones you remember. More than the ones you win.”

Black and white footage doesn’t allow for a true view, but Drake wore powder-blue uniforms the day of the almost-upset. With the 1969 crew in house on Saturday, the 2019 Bulldogs will sport the same jerseys, this time on the floor at the Knapp Center.

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