As the end of the college basketball season neared, vengeful underdogs rose to vent their wrath on season-long leaders. Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Utah State, Texas A&M, North Carolina and Dartmouth, among others, were upset, throwing conference races into general confusion and giving the NCAA tournament selection committee agonizing fits.
NIT officials had done their shopping early, serenely added St. John's (16-5) and Holy Cross (17-3) to NIT's swelling ranks, patiently waited to snatch the runners-up in the Missouri Valley (Cincinnati or Bradley), Skyline (Utah or Utah State) and Mid-Atlantic (St. Joseph's or LaSalle) conferences to fill three of four remaining berths. Other possibilities: St. Louis (16-6), Xavier (17-6), DePaul (13-5), Navy (13-5), Seton Hall (13-6). Meanwhile, the NCAA could count on only NYU (15-3), Miami (21-3) and Ohio U. (14-4), the Mid-America Conference winner, but was almost sure to get defending champion California (20-1), Ohio State (19-2), Georgia Tech (20-4), Idaho State (19-3).
The unpredictable Southwest Conference was tied up tighter than a cowboy's knot, but all eyes were on Texas after the surprising Longhorns trounced Texas A&M 79-62 at Austin to join the startled Aggies and SMU in first place.
Texas got off fast, piled up a 10-point lead in the early minutes and never let up as Jay Arnette, Albert Amanza and Brendon Hughes shot the Aggies dizzy. Then Texas whipped Texas Tech 74-61, and it was apparent that the Longhorns, dead last a year ago, would be difficult to shrug off as contenders. SMU disposed of Rice 75-58 and TCU 98-67, and the Aggies recovered to beat Arkansas 82-61, setting the stage for their showdown battle in Dallas Tuesday night.
West Texas State broke through a late freeze, thanks to some alert ball-hawking by Keith Blair, overhauled New Mexico State 66-65, then beat Texas Western 72-59 to grab a half-game lead over the faltering Aggies and Arizona State in the Border Conference. NIT-bound Memphis State invaded Oklahoma City, set back the Chiefs 70-66. The top three:
1. TEXAS (15-5)
2. TEXAS A&M (17-3)
3. SMU (15-5)
"Definitely better than last year. Tandy Gillis is one of the finest corner shooters around, Darrall Imhoff is vastly improved, Bill McClintock is a master of all the rudiments of the game...he holds them together." This was UCLA Coach Johnny Wooden's educated appraisal of California after the bruising Bears held his Bruins to four field goals in the first half, beat them 67-57 to clinch a tie for the Big Five title.
Utah State's stalwart runners finally ran out of steam, succumbed to Colorado State U. and its devastating jump shooter, Larry Hoffner, 68-60, moved over to make room at the top of the Skyline for Utah, its most persistent pursuer. The Utes won twice, outshooting Denver 102-77, New-Mexico 91-83. The league championship will be decided Saturday in Logan.
San Francisco, acting the role of spoiler, upset St. Mary's 73-54, cut the Gaels' West Coast lead to a half game over Loyola, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. Rocky Mountain leader Idaho State defeated Montana State 68-59 for its 15th straight. The top three:
1. CALIFORNIA (20-1)
2. UTAH (20-2)
3. UTAH STATE (19-3)
It was a frantic week in the Southeastern Conference and, when it was over, Georgia Tech's harried Yellow Jackets breathed an audible sigh of relief. For a short while, though, the picture in Atlanta was obscured in grim uncertainty. First, Tennessee, on Glenn Campbell's last-second 15-foot jump shot, upset the Jackets 65-63, dropping them into a three-way tie for first place with Kentucky and Auburn. Georgia next gave them a bad scare, going down stubbornly before Roger Kaiser's outside clutch shooting 69-68. At last came the good news. Auburn edged Kentucky 61-60 on Jimmy Fibbe's two foul shots, just about knocking the Wildcats out of the SEC race.
The Southern Conference championship tournament was about to start in Richmond and, for the first time in six years, West Virginia wasn't seeded No. 1. That honor belonged to rising Virginia Tech, which hustled past Richmond 85-53, VMI 100-71, Furman 100-87 to break the Mountaineers' six-year grip on first place in the regular-season standings. To add to West Virginia's discomfort, not even another superb performance by Jerry West, who tossed in 40 points despite a broken nose, could help the Mountaineers against George Washington. Jon Feldman, the Colonials' perky little scat guard, jump shot over their defenses for 42 points, led his team to a 97-93 victory.
North Carolina began the week pleasantly enough, cooling off streaking North Carolina State 66-62 with the help of some accurate shooting by Doug Moe, and beating Clemson 85-80. But South Carolina refused to follow the script, upset the Tar Heels 85-81, knocked them out of the Atlantic Coast lead. Wake Forest, ready and willing to take over, clinched a certain tie for first place by running over Duke 83-64.
The Ohio Valley was beginning to heat up in more ways than one. In the season's most bizarre turn, Eastern Kentucky forfeited a 38-20 decision and its league lead to Western Kentucky when aroused Coach Paul McBrayer claimed rival Coach Ed Diddle laid hands on Ralph Richardson after a foul, refused to permit his team to continue. This left Western Kentucky and Tennessee Tech tied for first place. The top three:
1. GEORGIA TECH (20-4)
2. AUBURN (17-3)
3. WEST VIRGINIA (21-4)
One bad weekend and suddenly Dartmouth was fighting for its life in the Ivy League. The Indians' two-game lead disappeared like icing off a birthday cake when Princeton, with a 32-point boost from Sophomore Pete Campbell, beat them 76-69 in overtime, then Penn edged them 68-64. To make matters worse, Princeton also cuffed Harvard 71-60, tied Dartmouth for first place.
NYU gave New Yorkers a look at some old-fashioned defense and ended Holy Cross's 11-game winning streak 74-60, then exploded in the second half to beat Boston U. 74-66. St. John's, too much of a match for its city rivals, trimmed CCNY 93-67, St. Francis 86-61. St. Bonaventure overtook slipping Villanova 72-70 on sub Bill Connery's late lay-up, turned Tom Stith's 42 points into a 74-70 win over Marquette.
St. Joseph's defeated Delaware 99-66, St. Francis (Pa.) 78-69 to share the Mid-Atlantic lead with LaSalle, beaten by Penn 66-62, Temple 77-53. Navy and Seton Hall, their ears cocked for tournament bids, each won twice. The top three:
1. ST. JOHN'S (16-5)
2. NYU (15-3)
3. ST. BONAVENTURE (16-2)
The returns were about in, and Ohio State was on the verge of winning the Big Ten race it has dominated all season. Defending champion Michigan State gave it a rattling good try with a fierce all court press that would have choked most teams. But the Buckeyes maintained their poise, let talented Jerry Lucas fire away for 28 points, and squirmed past the Spartans 84-83 for their 11th victory. Indiana, the only team with a chance to tie Ohio State, was still going through the motions, trounced Michigan 88-69, Iowa 79-64 for its seventh straight.
Kansas Coach Dick Harp, hanged in effigy last month, was having the last lugubrious laugh. His Jayhawks, led by Sophomore Wayne Hightower, squeezed by Oklahoma 54-53, then surprised Colorado 75-67 and suddenly were tied with the Buffs and Kansas State in the Big Eight. Assisting them was last-place Nebraska, which shocked almost everybody by beating Kansas State 70-60.
Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, who rarely ever enjoys himself in Houston, was held to 14 points by Rich Molchany and Ted Luckenbill, but the Bearcats fed Center Paul Hogue for 22 points and won 57-47. Bradley, sharing the lead with Cincinnati in the Missouri Valley, added to its streak by beating Oklahoma City 82-69, North Texas State 69-39, for its 15th straight.
Ohio U. turned back Toledo 71-67, Bowling Green 85-70 to win its first Mid-America title. Notre Dame beat DePaul 70-58, shored up its tournament hopes. The top three:
1. BRADLEY (21-1)
2. CINCINNATI (20-1)
3. OHIO STATE (19-2)