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Classic basketball bout.

Byline: Bob Rodman The Register-Guard

C o l l e g e b a s k e t b a l l

CORVALLIS - Call it a night to remember or, depending on your point of view, one hard to forget.

It was Dec. 22, 1969. A packed Gill Coliseum was rocked almost off its foundation. And a brazen bayou bunch from Louisiana State was to blame.

It was basketball, Maravich style, replete with 45 personal fouls, seven technical fouls, 68 free-throw attempts, a fight, a player ejection and a crowd of 10,388 captivated by it all.

It was one of the most raucous evenings in Oregon State basketball history, altering the game, around these parts, anyway, seemingly forever.

"Pistol" Pete Maravich, his magic with a basketball as a shooter, passer and ball handler many believe unmatched in the sport's history, his father/coach Press Maravich and some other Tigers with gorilla-like tendencies all but brought the house down on the homeowner, Oregon State.

The 6-foot-5 senior guard with his lengthy dark hair flying and his baggy gray socks flopping threw in what was then an OSU opponent scoring record 46 points, a performance fueled by a 30-of-31 night from the free-throw line that remains a Coliseum record.

The result was LSU's unconventional decisioning of the Beavers, 76-68.

In the ashes of the firestorm, then-OSU coach Paul Valenti, a disciple of discipline and teacher of teamwork, set a speed record for postgame interviews.

Frustrated and flabbergasted, Valenti surfaced in the Beavers' locker room and cut a brief verbal swath through an anxious crowd of reporters.

"I have just one thing to say," huffed the then 49-year-old coach. "We lost to the best basketball player in America. And that's all."

Thirty-seven years later, almost to the day, Oregon State and LSU prepare to play again at Gill, this one on Sunday with a 5 p.m. tipoff to accommodate a national telecast.

It will be a reacquaintance on OSU's floor after nearly four decades, though any similarity between the two games will be purely accidental and surely unintentional.

"Some things you just remember," said Gary Freeman, a 6-9 senior for the 1969-70 Beavers who had a career-high 32 points against Team Maravich. "That game was one of those things. It was like I played in it just a couple of years ago."

For those who witnessed the event, the most vivid recollections are of "Pistol" Pete and the fight.

The melee erupted with 4:14 remaining in the first half and the Beavers dominating 35-21 when LSU's Al Sanders, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound front-line player, went after Vince Fritz, a 6-4, 185-pound guard/forward for OSU.

According to newspaper reports, ` ... The fans saw Sanders ... come flying at Fritz. Fritz went down with Sanders on top of him, still flailing and the rest of the Tigers eager to punch, too."

Frank Buckiewicz, a former Pac-8 Conference basketball official from Forest Grove, worked the OSU-LSU game.

"The guy had Fritz in a choke hold," said Buckiewicz, now 76 and an observer of Pac-10 officials who is frequently seen at Oregon State home games. "I though Fritz was gone the way they attacked him.

"They had a couple of guys who were like a couple of pro tight ends. They'd set a pick and if you hit them, you were out of it."

Pete Maravich kept his distance. So did Freeman. "I remember trying to be a peacemaker," said Freeman, now residing in Albany. "I did not want to get in the middle of it and get cold-cocked."

But one who tried to get to Ground Zero as quickly as he could was the late and colorful Dee Andros, the legendary OSU football coach.

"Most of the people stayed put," Valenti remembered, "but old Dee didn't. He went out there and tried to break up the fight. I wasn't sure what was going to happen."

Jim Anderson, an assistant on Valenti's staff who was the Beavers' head coach from 1989-95, said "the antics of Press Maravich had the players and everybody in arms.

"It was unbelievable to see a coach ignite a feeling like that on the floor."

Another of Valenti's assistant coaches, Bill Harper, admitted to being awed by Pete Maravich's talent.

"It was one of the greatest individual performances I've ever seen," Harper said, "but I was concerned about how physical the game was. They tried to put on a show and make us look bad. I think Paul was a little upset with the way some of the things happened and I can't blame him."

That the game delivered on its potential for volatility was no surprise to Valenti, whose Beavers had endured a similar atmosphere 18 days earlier in Baton Rouge, La., while losing to the Tigers 94-72.

"Press was coaching and Pete was playing," said Valenti, who turned 86 in September and looks as fit as ever.

"We knew we'd be in for a struggle. They were ripping us pretty good and every time I'd look down at the LSU bench there was Press egging the crowd on, raising heck down there.

"We thought the officials weren't helping us any and we'd get after them but they would just laugh at us."

Valenti knew what LSU would bring to Oregon State's neighborhood and "I didn't want Press coming into our place and taking over our yard," Valenti said.

But the LSU coach did.

Press Maravich finished his night with three technical fouls in a time when ejections were not automatic after two. Pete Maravich also was saddled with three technicals. Sanders got one for fighting.

LSU won the game at the line, converting 34-of-42 free throws. Oregon State outscored LSU from the field by 14 points but made just 12-of-26 from the line.

Press Maravich challenged the officials from the get-go, stalking the sideline, straying onto the court and once physically moving toward an official until his son restrained him.

"They foul Pete all the time," Press Maravich said after the game. "I can show you the scars ... the marks where he's had as many as 25 stitches."

But in the aftermath, the officials seemed to be off-limits for the LSU coach, who died in 1987 at the age of 71.

"I prefer not to comment," Press Maravich said. But he fancied the crowd. "I like 'em hollering, yelling, swearing," he said. "That's good for basketball."

Buckiewicz said he and his officiating partner, Bert Burr, had done "a good job but we were criticized by our boss. He told us there should have been more technicals.

"I thought we set a record with seven."

Order, of a sort, eventually was restored. Sanders was ejected but while the Tigers were losing a player, the Beavers began losing the game.

Pete Maravich scored 12 points in the final five minutes of the first half, cutting OSU's advantage to 37-34 at the break. He scored 10 more in the final five minutes of the game to seal the win.

With 2 1/2 minutes left, the Beavers led 68-67 but never scored again while the Tigers converted 9-of-10 free throws for the victory.

The Beavers did their best to contain Pete Maravich, limiting him to an 8-of-23 night from the field. But guard Freddie Boyd fouled out chasing Maravich. So did Tim Perkins.

Fritz survived to finish with 14 points and OSU's 7-foot Vic Bartolome had 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds, though LSU won the board battle 40-33.

"It was a great game, in a way," said Valenti, who inherited the OSU job in 1964 following the 36-year reign of the famed Slats Gill. "We were in there with them all the time."

Pete Maravich, who died of a heart defect at age 40 in 1988, remains the all-time NCAA scoring leader with an average of 44.2 points a game.

That LSU team, that game and that night still seem to be a fly in Valenti's soup.

"Pete was a great player. He had it all," said Valenti, aligned with OSU as a player, coach and administrator since 1938, save for a four-year Navy stint.

"But they had those low cuts (basketball shoes), the white shoes, the growing hair. We had the black (high-top) shoes, the nice socks, the groomed hair. I wouldn't change."

By the end of that 10-16 season, Valenti's six-year tenure as OSU's basketball coach, highlighted by a 1966 Athletic Association of Western Universities title and NCAA tournament berth, would reach its finish.

"I couldn't change," he said.

OREGON STATE VS. LSU 5 p.m. Sunday at Gill Coliseum. TV: FSN. Radio: KKNX-AM (840), KNND-AM (1400).
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Title Annotation:Sports; LSU's `Pistol' packed quite a punch in Corvallis
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 15, 2006
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