A USC-Seattle University nonconference basketball game was scheduled for the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. What wasn't advertised was this: This winter gathering had all the earmarks of a Seattle coaching convention.
The Trojans' coach was Bob Boyd, who in his previous stop had directed Seattle U for two seasons (1964-65). In the stands watching the matchup was Lionel Purcell, who had succeeded Boyd as the Chieftains coach (1966-67). Now guiding SU was Morris "Bucky" Buckwalter, who had replaced Purcell as coach and would stay five seasons (1968-72).
On Dec. 12, 1969, Buckwalter came away with an impressive entry to put on his resume: His SU team rose up and knocked off sixth-ranked and unbeaten USC 74-70.
"We were small but we had skilled players," he said of a team that would finish 13-13. "When the shots were falling we were a good team and pretty tough to beat."
With Seattle U returning to full Division I championship eligibility for the first time in 33 years -- when the Redhawks host Washington in a women's soccer match at Championship Field on Aug. 17 -- this is the 21st in a series of 33 stories replaying memorable SU events previously held at the NCAA's top level (1952-80).
There was more to this assembled Seattle basketball coaching fraternity that night in L.A. than the three aforementioned leaders, only they didn't know it yet. Starting at guard for USC was sophomore Paul Westphal, who would spend three seasons coaching the Sonics (1999-2001), holding down a Seattle NBA job that counted Buckwalter as one of Westphal's predecessors, as an interim coach (1973).
"After that, we would be chatting and he would bring it up and say how well we played," Buckwalter said of Westphal and SU's '69 upset.
The Chieftains, relying on starting guards Don Edwards and Tommy Little, took it to USC from the beginning, leading by as many as 10 only to have the then-Pac-8 team whittle the deficit to uncomfortable margins.
With 3:30 remaining, SU went up 66-58 and tried to run out the clock, only to have the Trojans make another run. Edwards, who led all scorers with 21, hit three of four free throws in the closing minutes to preserve what was hailed as one of the more satisfying wins in school history.
Buckwalter, in his endearing manner, credited the Chieftains' defensive effort for the outcome, saying, "The defense came tonight. Actually, it came in on little cat feet -- like the fog."
Of the SU coaching personnel connected to this contest, Buckwalter would hang onto his Chieftains job, which was his first head coaching opportunity, until he was beckoned by the hometown NBA team, joining the Sonics as an assistant coach for Tom Nissalke, and then replacing Nissalke as head coach at midseason. He also would serve as an interim head coach for the ABA's Utah Stars.
Boyd would spend 13 seasons at USC before leaving for Mississippi State, where he would coach for five seasons.
Sadly, Purcell, who went back to coaching high school basketball, would live only six more years. He died of a heart attack at age 49.
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