Duquesne and Villanova, the East's leaders for so many weeks, were finding the going tougher. Little Westminster, attacking deliberately and defending tenaciously, led Duquesne a merry chase and upset the Dukes 63-61. And things got worse when Duquesne went west to play Dayton. They lost again, 71-48. Villanova stumbled in Buffalo. Canisius stormed through the Wildcats' meager defense after Hubie White fouled out and won 80-76.
St. John's was idle, but New Yorkers were almost as high on NYU after the Violets beat West Virginia 85-75. For once, the precocious Violets showed a sticky defense, and the Mountaineers were rarely able to shake loose their famed fast break. Tom Boose shadowed Rod Thorn effectively, and sophomores Barry Kramer and Happy Hairston did the rest. Between them they scored 50 points. Against Georgetown, Kramer got 23 points, Hairston 16, Boose 15, and NYU won 76-67.
Elsewhere in the East the tournament push was on. La Salle upset St. Joseph's 72-71 in the Mid-Atlantic; Connecticut beat Massachusetts 72-56 in the Yankee; Yale whipped Cornell 77-56 to take over the Ivy lead. Holy Cross trounced St. Francis 85-51 and Connecticut 103-64 as Jack Foley scored 56 points; Providence faltered against Rhode Island and lost 71-61 but came back to whip Boston U. 98-62; Navy, after beating Rutgers 77-50, succumbed to Duke 91-72; Manhattan surprised Temple 70-65. The top three:
1. ST. JOHN'S (15-4)
2. VILLANOVA (16-6)
3. NYU (13-3)
"We are as good as Kentucky in any town in the U.S., except Lexington," moaned Mississippi State's Babe McCarthy. He was wrong. For the first time in 60 years State was better than Kentucky in Lexington. While the exasperated Wildcats and their even more exasperated coach, Adolph Rupp, looked on helplessly, the Bulldogs went into a frustrating slowdown. They probed cautiously and shot sparingly (26 shots) but accurately (18 baskets), and won 49-44 to tie Kentucky for the SEC lead. Then, while shocked Kentucky rooters watched, the impish McCarthy laid a wreath of dead flowers on the Wildcats' basket. Explained McCarthy, "That's a wreath the Kentucky boys hung on our door in Starkville last year after they beat us. I told my boys we would return the favor if we beat them." Five nights later State beat Florida 67-45 to take over first place. However, third-place Auburn was still very much alive. The Tigers shuffled past Florida 64-60 and LSU 55-50 and then waited patiently for Kentucky to come to Auburn on February 26.
After weeks of being chased, Duke was suddenly the chaser in the tight ACC race. Wake Forest and North Carolina State both moved ahead of the Blue Devils. Wake Forest's big Len Chappell, who warmed up with 50 points in a 116-67 win over Virginia, crashed Duke's defenses for 37, and the Deacons won 91-79. He got 32 more as Maryland fell 81-78. N.C. State had no one quite so awesome as Chappell, but the Wolfpack managed to beat North Carolina 85-57, South Carolina 76-75 and Clemson 74-71.
Virginia Tech was busy tuning up for the Southern Conference tournament. Bucky Keller and Howard Pardue scored at a merry clip as the Gobblers raced past William & Mary 104-65, VMI 85-71 and Richmond 76-69. In the Ohio Valley, Western Kentucky defeated Middle Tennessee 87-81 and Murray 96-77 to move closer to the title. The top three:
1. MISSISSIPPI STATE (20-1)
2. KENTUCKY (17-2)
3. DUKE (17-4)
Maybe the pressure was beginning to tell on Ohio State. The Buckeyes weren't quite so overpowering against Big Ten tailenders Michigan and Michigan State on the road. They bumbled a bit on offense, but there was nothing wrong with their defense as they beat Michigan 72-57 and Michigan State 80-72. Despite the close victories, the trail was growing colder for OSU's pursuers. Wisconsin slipped further behind after losing to Michigan 84-65, and Purdue's talented Terry Dischinger crushed the last bit of hope out of Illinois. He scored 45 points as Purdue defeated the Illini 100-88.
With Cincinnati coming up Monday, Missouri Valley leader Bradley was worried. The Braves would have to do without 6-foot-8 sophomore Joe Strawder, who was booted out for "conduct detrimental to the school." They beat Drake 83-77 with Strawder and Chicago 69-30 without him, but the difference was apparent. Meanwhile, the Bearcats squashed George Washington 83-43 and then beat Houston at its own slowdown game, 59-47.
Colorado and Kansas State were still winning in the Big Eight. The Buffs beat Oklahoma State 64-56 and Kansas 65-61; K-State outran tall but slow Oklahoma and won 71-63. Bowling Green battered Ohio U. 83-53 to clinch the Mid-American title, while independents Loyola (16-2), Butler (19-5), Creighton (16-4), Xavier (13-8) and Marquette (12-7) were hoping to attract tournament scouts. The top three:
1. OHIO STATE (20-0)
2. CINCINNATI (21-2)
3. BRADLEY (18-3)
Favorites come and go in the SWC and last week it was SMU's turn to get a vote of confidence. The spunky Mustangs tied up Texas Tech's big Harold Hudgens and little Del Ray Mounts, plopped in 26 of their 29 foul shots and upset the Raiders 68-63 at Lubbock to force a three-way tie (with Tech and Texas A&M) for first place. But the Aggies were far from finished. They made the most of Carroll Broussard's magnificent touch (54 points in two games) to beat Texas 54-48 and TCU 87-65.
Arizona State knocked over Hardin-Simmons 95-67 and Pasadena 130-65. The top three:
1. ARIZONA STATE (19-3)
2. HOUSTON (18-5)
3. SMU (14-6)
For a while USC had a chance to climb back into the Big Five race. The Trojans forced UCLA to give ground and whipped the Bruins 74-60. But next night UCLA did less sloughing off on USC's Big John Rudometkin in the pivot and paid more attention to the corner men. Johnny Green got in some long-range bombing for 20 points, and the Bruins won 68-62. But UCLA isn't home free yet. It must still play Stanford twice, and the Indians were just 1½ games behind after beating California twice, 64-51 and 59-54.
The Skyline race—and perhaps an NCAA tournament berth—will be settled Thursday when Utah and Utah State meet in Logan to break their first-place tie. Utah State put down one contender when it beat Colorado State U. 77-70 on the Rams' home grounds, while Utah merely turned loose Billy McGill and he scored 88 points to get the Utes past New Mexico 90-65 and Denver 109-70.
Oregon State's slips began to show once the Beavers left home. They lost to Seattle 74-73 when little Tom Shaules dropped in two foul shots in the last second and then bowed to Washington 73-61. The top three:
1. UTAH (19-3)
2. OREGON STATE (17-3)
3. UCLA (12-8)