Regardless of the outcome of the final round this weekend, this year's NCAA championship competition will go into the records as the Tournament of Upsets. Never before have so many favored teams been so outrageously trimmed by underdogs. Navy's 76-63 slaughter of North Carolina in the very first round started the string of surprises, but it remained for the team that entered the tournament with one of the worst records, Louisville, to wreck all predictions and national ratings. Louisville had won 16 and lost 10, but even that was misleading because, in the matter of success in road games—always the test of a team's poise and ability—the Cardinals appeared sadly inept. They played 11 games away from home and lost nine of them.
They came out on the floor against a typically sound Kentucky team in Evanston, Ill. last weekend and, after 10 minutes, they were 15 points behind, defending passively and attacking haphazardly. They were hanging back, allowing Kentucky to set up its patterns—with single, double and triple screens—and seemed headed for another 30-point disaster. Then Louisville Coach Peck Hickman, a stocky, square-faced taskmaster, called time out and changed the defensive strategy. The Cardinals caught fire as instantaneously as tinder under a blowtorch. Louisville began picking up Kentucky at mid-court and beyond and, unbelievable as it sounds for a Rupp-coached team, Kentucky's attack and general poise swiftly withered away in the face of this simple pressure. At the same time, Louisville's Don Goldstein and John Turner began hitting on better than 50% of their long-range shots. At the end, Louisville was the winner by 15 points, 76-61. The next night, against tenacious Michigan State, another well-coached crew, Goldstein and Turner continued their phenomenal shooting and Peck Hickman gambled successfully on defense. He conceded State's guards their outside shots and collapsed his three tallest players around Michigan's great John Green. Well, the guards couldn't hit, and Green (though he managed 29 points and 23 rebounds) couldn't win the game by himself.
Can the Cardinals continue this inspired rampage in the final round? Yes, if the amazingly accurate shooting holds up; that could demoralize any opponent. No, if the many sophomores on the squad throw the ball away too often.
West Virginia will be Louisville's first opponent in the finals, having gained their place on the strength of two superb performances by Jerry West in the regionals at Charlotte, N.C. Against St. Joseph's he had 36 points and 15 rebounds; against Boston he had 33 and 17. And he was his team's best defensive player.
March 23, 1959
In the western half of the draw, the irresistible force of Cincinnati's offense, built around and sparked by Oscar Robertson, will meet the immovable object of California's hard-nose defense. Robertson enabled Cincinnati to get by tough Kansas State by shucking his role of high scorer and feeding teammates instead. He had "only" 24 points, but 13 assists.
California, whose towel-chewing Coach Pete Newell has always gained more satisfaction out of harassing opponents into errors than in scoring himself, beat both Utah and St. Mary's just that way. Their constant pressure held both opponents to their lowest scores yet. (See page 6.)
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