The eliminations were over and the time for decision approached as the NCAA traveling tournament headed for San Francisco (see page 39). Defending champion California, Cincinnati and Ohio State, the nation's top three teams, as expected, successfully negotiated early tests to reach the semifinals, but with them came a surprise—NYU, a team that has looked both good and terrible in regular season play.
Last weekend NYU looked good. Coach Lou Rossini's resourceful Violets breezed into Charlotte after an easy 78-59 victory over Connecticut in New York, promptly upset West Virginia (a 94-86 winner over Navy) 82-81 in overtime. Drubbed by the Mountaineers 98-69 at Morgan-town only five weeks earlier, NYU cautiously practiced "possession and patience," made it pay off despite 34 points by West Virginia's versatile Jerry West. Tom Sanders, who scored 28 points, shared the boards with teammate Al Filardi, but it was gnomish Russ Cunningham who lifted the Violets into a game-ending deadlock with a 30-foot set shot, clinched the outcome with a clutch free throw in the closing seconds of the overtime. Next came Duke, which had beaten Princeton 84-60, St. Joseph's 58-56. NYU deliberately shot the Blue Devils' carefully conceived 1-3-1 zone full of holes, poured in 74 points to Duke's 59 to win the Eastern Regional final.
For a few delicious moments Western Kentucky, which had beaten Miami 107-84, and Georgia Tech, an edgy 57-54 winner over Ohio U., enjoyed heady national prominence. But nobody was fooled, least of all Ohio State, led by All-America Sophomore Jerry Lucas. The tall, talented and free-running Buckeyes, trailing Western Kentucky 43-37 at half time, caught the fading Hilltoppers 98-79, went on to solve Georgia Tech's variable defenses for an 86-69 win in the Mideast Regional at Louisville.
California, its defenses at their frustrating best, methodically stifled their opponents in the Western Regionals at Seattle. The Bears sat on Idaho State 71-44, Santa Clara 69-49, smothered Oregon, which had caused a brief flutter of excitement by upsetting Utah 65-54 in an encompassing defensive hug. The final score: California 70, Oregon 49.
Cincinnati, anxious for another shot at Cal, got its usual pickup from magnificent Oscar Robertson, beat DePaul 99-59, Kansas 82-71 in the Midwest Regionals at Manhattan, Kans. The weary Jayhawks, who earned their way into the tournament by outlasting Kansas State 84-82 in a playoff, first turned back Texas 90-81, gave the Bearcats a tussle for a while, but succumbed inevitably to Robertson, who pushed in 43 points.
The NIT, too, was bruising its way toward a weekend climax in New York's Madison Square Garden. While top-seeded Bradley and defending champion St. John's looked on, second-seeded Utah State and unseeded Providence moved convincingly into the semifinals, sat back to catch their breath before meeting each other Thursday night.
Villanova held on just long enough to outlast Detroit 88-86 in the first round but found its slips showing against Utah State, made one mistake too many, lost 73-72 in another cliff hanger. The Wildcats' jump-shooting Sophomore Hubie White sent the game into overtime at 67 all, but the ever-hustling Aggies refused to panic, even when star rebounder Cornell Green (brother of Boston Red Sox's Pumpsie) fouled out. Max Perry, a poker-faced 5-foot 7-inch playmaking wizard, held Utah State together, calmly dropped in two foul shots with seven seconds to go.
Providence, driven on by a vocal band of rooters who had the Garden jumping, slicked its way into the semifinals by fighting off Memphis State 71-70 and upsetting third-seeded St. Louis 64-53. Against rugged Memphis State, smooth, ball-hawking Len Wilkens supplied the firepower, came up with 28 points. Two nights later the busy Friars' hustling zone proved the difference as St. Louis's ponderous 270-pound Bob Nordmann was stalled under the basket. The Providence stars: 6-foot 10-inch Jimmy Hadnot, who took over the boards, and magic-handed John Egan, who dazzled the bewildered Billikens with his deft passing, surging drives and flicking jump shots.
St. Bonaventure and Dayton also scored first-round victories. Holy Cross managed to match the streaking Bonnies in a 41-41 first half with a harassing 2-3 zone and the marksmanship of Jack (The Shot) Foley, who jumped and flipped in 36 points over the heads of his tight-guarding opponents during the game. But the capable Stith boys, Tom and Sam, finally caught up to the Crusaders for 52 points between them, pulled St. Bonaventure in front 94-81 for its 17th straight.
Dayton, a five-time NIT finalist but never a winner, took heart from a 72-51 conquest of Temple. The taller Flyers had the Owls blinking with their rebounding, never let up after they ran off eight straight points for a 36-27 half-time lead. But Coach Tommy Blackburn had his fingers crossed. He still had to face Bradley Tuesday night.
THE SMALL COLLEGES
The names weren't famous, but the stakes were just as big at Evansville, Ind., where the NCAA college-division title was settled, and at Kansas City, where 32 teams tortuously weaved through eliminations in the NAIA tournament.
Despite drifting snowstorms and slick highways, 27,836 fans found their way to Evansville's Roberts Municipal Stadium for four double-headers, watched gleefully as the Evansville Aces won their second straight NCAA crown. But first the Aces had to overcome a sensational 54-point spree by American U.'s Wee Willie Jones, a fascinating 5-foot 9-inch gunner with Globetrotter aspirations. This they did when Ed Smallwood, a husky jump shooter, poured in 41 points, led them to a 101-91 triumph. Then they outfought Kentucky Wesleyan 76-69 in a savage semifinal battle.
Meanwhile Chapman College of Orange, Calif., a tiny school with an enrollment of 420, was unexpectedly making its way to the final by beating Wheaton 73-67 and Cornell of Iowa 79-64. However, the plucky Panthers were no match for Evansville. The Aces won 90-69 as Smallwood scored 23 points, was named the tournament's most valuable player.
At Kansas City, Westminster (Pa.) squeezed the ball with profound concentration, shocked three-time NAIA champion Tennessee A&I to win 39-38 in the semifinals. But Southwest Texas State, gaining momentum with successive victories over Wisconsin State 93-69, Savannah State 101-88, Grambling 76-68 and William Jewell 82-44, was settling for nothing less than first place. In the final the Texans broke to an early lead on the hook shooting of Charlie Sharp (who scored 150 points in five games), made Westminster come to them and beat the Titans 66-44 for the championship.
While Boston and St. Louis, winners of division titles, enjoyed fat-cat rests, the NBA second-and third-place teams busily hustled for the dubious right to face the champions in the playoffs. Out of the money this year were New York's Carl Braun and Cincinnati's Tom Marshall, who wound up in the cellar. Braun took off for Seattle to search for new talent; Marshall took off from the Royals for good.
In the East Philadelphia and Syracuse split the first two games, awaited a third game to decide Boston's opponent. The Warriors, in the playoffs for the first time in two years, overwhelmed Syracuse 115-92, then lost to the Nats 125-119 when Johnny Kerr found Wilt Chamberlain's number, "held" him to 28 points.
In the West third-place Minneapolis polished off Detroit in quick order, beat the Pistons 113-112, 114-99 on the bull's-eye shooting of Elgin Baylor and Frank Selvy, prepared to test the Hawks in a best-of-seven series.