The NCAA road show headed for Louisville and the weekend of decision after a harrowing week of basket bombing took its toll among the favorites. Still left standing were Louisville, Cincinnati, West Virginia and California, and each had a chance to pluck college basketball's sweetest plum.
If ever there was a dark horse it was Louisville, which came into the tournament with a mediocre 16-10 record and proceeded to take apart Eastern Kentucky 77-63 at Lexington, Kentucky 76-61 and Michigan State 88-81 in the Mideast Regional at Evanston, Ill. (see page 45). The pesky Cardinals did some early wobbling against Kentucky and Michigan State (a 74-69 winner over Marquette) until Coach Peck Hickman found the right defense; then outside sharpshooters Don Goldstein and John Turner did the rest.
The Eastern Regionals underwent some dipsy-doodling of their own before West Virginia staggered through the upset-stricken field. Navy's quietly confident Ben Carnevale, who counts North Carolina's Frank McGuire among his closest friends, proved friendship is no substitute for victory as his smooth-passing, tight-defending Middies shocked the favored Tar Heels 76-63 in New York. Boston U. edged Connecticut 60-58, and West Virginia clobbered Dartmouth 82-68. The winners moved on to Charlotte, N.C., where Navy lost its touch and was eliminated by Boston U. 62-55 in overtime. Meanwhile, Jerry West, a smooth-as-silk 6-foot 3-inch rebounder and jump shooter, scored 36 points and pulled lagging West Virginia up by its boots to overhaul St. Joseph's 95-92, after the Mountaineers trailed by 18 with 13 minutes to go. The next night West took charge again with 33 points and 17 rebounds, and West Virginia held off hustling Boston U. 86-82.
March 23, 1959
No. 1-ranked Kansas State warmed up its shooting irons against DePaul 102-70 and figured it knew how to stop Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, who led the Bearcats to a 77-73 victory over TCU, in the Midwest Regional final at Lawrence, Kans. But Robertson had other ideas. Finding himself double-teamed, Oscar turned feeder, passed off for 13 baskets, and Cincinnati won 85-75.
At San Francisco California's clinging man-to-man defense, the best in the nation, harried lumbering Utah into defeat 71-53 and cooled off hot-shooting St. Mary's 66-46 to give the Bears the Far West Regional ticket to Louisville.
St. John's and Bradley moved into the semifinals of New York's NIT and waited patiently for the rest of the field to catch up. St. John's, beginning to feel its oats again after a midseason slump, overpowered Villanova 75-67, and was even better against third-seeded St. Bonaventure. The Redmen flushed out the Bonnies 82-74 with their rapid offense as sophomore Tony Jackson scored 27 points and snatched 16 rebounds. Top-seeded Bradley went up against alert, ball-hawking Butler, which had distinguished itself by beating Fordham 94-80. But the Peoria Braves had too much know-how once they switched to a zone in the second half and squeaked past Butler's Bulldogs 83-77.
In other first-round games, a merry band of hustlers from Providence fooled the city slickers and came off with a 68-66 victory over Manhattan when John Egan, a dazzling ball-handling sophomore, flipped in a 35-footer with four seconds to go; NYU played nip and tuck with Denver until the tremendous rebounding of Tom Sanders and Cal Ramsey wore down the Pioneers, then drew away to win 90-81.
THE SMALL COLLEGES
While the big boys were settling their differences, the little fellows were having it out in the NCAA college division at Evansville, Ind. and in the NAIA tournament at Kansas City.
Resourceful little Evansville set its home town to hopping with early victories over St. Michael's 82-63 and North Carolina A&T in a 110-92 record breaker. And the excitement really bubbled up when Ed Smallwood and Hugh Ahlering, a Korea veteran who couldn't make his high school team but was good enough to win the tournament's most valuable player award, helped the Aces beat Southwest Missouri State 83-67 for their first NCAA title.
Tennessee A&I, a fast-breaking band of happy warriors who have made a habit of winning the NAIA championship, took a while to work up steam in some of its games, but bowled over Nebraska Wesleyan 75-57, Youngstown 89-80, Illinois State Normal 131-74 and Southwest Texas State 64-62 on the way to a final showdown with Pacific Lutheran. Down 46-45 at half time, the flashy Tigers sent their speedsters driving in for layups to break down the Lutes' switching man-to-man and won 97-87 to take their third straight crown. The Tiger with the sharpest claws was Dick Barnett, who scored 26 in the last game and was named the most valuable player.
St. Louis' Bob Pettit packed away six NBA scoring records, including 2,105 points for a season and a 29.2 average, and joined his teammates as they sat back to watch Minneapolis and Detroit knock each other off for the dubious right to meet the first-place Hawks in the Western playoffs. The Lakers won the first game 92-89, but lost the second 117-103.
It took the New York Knicks three years to make the Eastern playoffs and only two games to get themselves knocked out. Syracuse, a Knicks' victim nine straight times earlier in the season, made the most of former Piston George Yardley and old reliable Dolph Schayes to trim New York 129-123, 131-115 and prepared to face Boston in a four-out-of-seven series for the Eastern title.