Kentucky's Adolph Rupp, with normal preseason pessimism, grumbled morosely one day last week, "We're playing in the majors, and, hell, you just don't win in the majors with rookies. And that's what we got, except for Johnny Cox." But Rupp's neophyte Wildcats, acting as if they never heard the twangy Baron, strutted out and collected three more valuable victories, holding off suddenly rambunctious Duke 78-64, solving SMU's zone defense to win 72-60 and then testing their dramatic abilities on national TV with a 76-57 decision over bigger St. Louis. The last was the best for Kentucky, which shook off the stubborn Billikens in the last eight minutes to win going away as old veteran Cox scored 27 points.
With Kentucky rambling, its SEC rivals continued to jockey for position in conference and independent games. Mississippi State had a close call when Bailey Howell was held to a mere four field goals (and 18 points) by Murray State, but finally edged the Thoroughbreds 63-62 and later defeated Arkansas State 72-57; Georgia Tech began to flex its muscles, beating old rival Georgia (a 76-72 winner over South Carolina) 73-66 and Furman 82-77; Tennessee continued to make like a contender, rallying to beat Wake Forest 61-50.
Unbeaten West Virginia skipped past The Citadel 89-61, then stormed and stewed when snowbound Duke, the only team to beat the Mountaineers in regular-season play last year, failed to show for a near-sellout crowd. Duke made it the next night and West Virginia crushed the Blue Devils 101-63. But after Duke came comeuppance by oft-beaten Virginia. Deadly outside shooting by Paul Adkins, who scored 25 points, and careless ball-handling by the fast-breaking Mountaineers resulted in a 75-72 West Virginia defeat. Observed Coach Fred Schaus: "We were flat."
December 22, 1958
Rallying to tie Clemson in the waning moments, North Carolina State pulled a strategy switch on the Tigers and made it work for a 56-54 victory to remain undefeated. With six seconds to play, Coach Ev Case shrewdly figured Clemson would be looking for sharpshooter Lou Pucillo to take the final shot. And they were. As three Tigers crowded Pucillo, the ball went to Dan Englehardt, who lofted in a jump shot for the winning goal. North Carolina stayed just behind State at the top of the ACC, rallying in the second half to trounce Virginia 83-61.
The supposedly roughhouse Big Ten finally got its head above water against non-conference foes and began to take on a tough look from top to bottom. Northwestern used a 30-point spree by 6-foot 9-inch Joe Ruklick to level Notre Dame 68-63 for the Irish's first home loss in 19 games. Then Wisconsin, who was beaten 11 straight, fumed long enough after Coach Bud Foster was hung in effigy to take its anger out on Notre Dame 56-54. Purdue's veterans, still having trouble jelling, outscored DePaul 89-71 but blew a 17-point lead against Evansville and narrowly saved victory 83-82 when hustling Harvey Austin stole the ball and drove in for the winning basket. Michigan State was still unbeaten, and Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State also found the winning touch.
Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, an expert at rendering opposing defenses impotent, found Marshall using a four-man box with a chaser but solved it easily, scoring 42 points as the Bearcats won 106-86. In the Mid-American, Toledo, upset by Wittenberg 66-63, surprised Miami of Ohio 81-63. Big Eight teams were jolted in nonconference play, with only Oklahoma (winner over Iowa and Minnesota), Colorado and Kansas State saving face.
Among the independents, Xavier of Ohio throttled New Mexico A&M 58-52, Iona 69-52 and Detroit 80-58; Dayton picked up a pair of hard-earned triumphs over Miami of Ohio 54-50 and Stetson 66-53; Marquette recovered from a 62-60 loss to Nebraska to beat Creighton 53-49 and St. Norbert's 82-74; Bradley won over Louisville 78-48 and St. John's 71-66.
Pitt's Don Hennon skittered through and around Duquesne's defense for 33 points and got a helping hand from John Mills, who held big Bob Slobodnik to one field goal, as the Panthers won 71-56 to nail down the Steel Bowl title.
Elsewhere, unbeaten teams fell like dime bets in a sidewalk crap game as Penn upset Army 75-73; Princeton outclassed Navy 86-64; George Washington rallied to overhaul Georgetown 82-75; Boston College, beaten by NYU 81-70, romped over Connecticut 81-55; Bradley squinched by St. John's 71-66; St. Joseph's breezed past Manhattan 92-57. Among those which escaped unscathed were Villanova, Niagara, St. Bonaventure, Holy Cross and LaSalle.
California's Pete Newell and San Francisco's Phil Woolpert, two of the West's wiliest defensive strategists, used all their bench genius to try to contain Kansas State's Bob Boozer, but floor-fancy Boozer, as elusive as a greased eel in a tubful of fat, piled up 27 points against Cal as State won 68-55 and added 21 more in a 53-52 squeezer over the Dons. However, California came up with the big one, a 57-55 upset of St. Mary's. San Francisco had worse luck and lost to TCU 58-56. UCLA and USC held the line against invaders, taking turns beating Kansas and Iowa State.
With unfriendly neighbors like Utah and Brigham Young hogging most of the talent, smaller Utah State has had to take the dregs in recent years. But last week the dregs appeared tastier than usual. Big Bob Ipsen and jumping jack Hal Theus combined to score 82 points and led the Aggies past West Texas State 91-61 and Washington State 66-57. Meanwhile, hot-shooting Utah swamped West Texas State 93-68 and split a pair with TCU winning 76-64, and losing 71-66.
Southwest Conference teams were still busy touring various ports of call and showing they could play in any man's league—some nights. TCU, Texas Tech, SMU and Texas A&M buzzed in and out of the South, Midwest and West with fair success, but the biggest prize was snared by low-rated Baylor, which set down defense-minded and always tough Oklahoma State 43-37.