There was more than just a subtle hint of pro basketball's shifting fortunes in Los Angeles' smoggy air when the NBA superstars gathered there last week, for the annual All-Star Game. Everywhere there were chauvinistic claims that the Los Angeles Lakers, the pride of the West, were to replace the Boston Celtics as basketball's No. 1 team.
The host Lakers themselves had set the tone with their flashy All-Star Game program which carried the words LOS ANGELES, BASKETBALL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD emblazoned in large print on its cover. Some enthusiastic local experts were predicting that Laker Coach Fred Schaus's West squad, with such superb shooters as Los Angeles' own Elgin Baylor and Jerry West to lead them, might score more than 200 points against the Boston-dominated East. Pro basketball is fairly new to Los Angeles, and perhaps such naive enthusiasm is forgivable. But the Celtics' volatile Red Auerbach, in to coach the East and already smarting from two straight All-Star defeats, is not a forgiving man in the best of times, which these aren't. "What do they think this city is," demanded Auerbach. Then, with much help from Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn, three of his Celtics' prideful old pros, Auerbach and his team put the brash Westerners in their place.
Using a fine fast break, the East never let the West in the game. Russell, treating San Francisco's Wilt Chamberlain with the disdain usually reserved for lesser members of the NBA, picked off rebounds like a giant octopus to set the fast break in motion. Cousy, slick as ever with his hand fakes and behind-the-back passes, and Cincinnati's marvelous Oscar Robertson led a furious charge downcourt that the West could not stop. The East defense, meanwhile, hounded Baylor and West so closely they made only nine out of 30 shots. The final score was a respectable 115-108, but the contest had been a romp. Auerbach gloated happily, "I never had an easier game." Fred Schaus had a different view: "Worst All-Star Game ever played."
Pleasant as it was to give LA the Red raspberry, Auerbach had only won a prestige skirmish in a war that wasn't going too well at all. With the season half over some NBA owners and coaches were openly saying that the young Los Angeles Lakers are indeed ready to break up the Boston dynasty and start one of their own. "They've got it now and they'll have it for many years," said Coach Dick McGuire of the Pistons. In Baylor, who is averaging 33.7 points a game, and the graceful West, the Lakers have a most menacing twosome. Dick Barnett, acquired from Syracuse, has strengthened an already affluent backcourt and rookies LeRoy Ellis and Gene Wiley, the latter an outstanding rebounder and defender, have given Schaus the corner and pivot depth he lacked last year. "Now, when we're coming down to the wire trading hoops," says Schaus, "they can't just go hound the big man, Baylor." All of which shows in the statistics. The Lakers lost only 12 of their first 47 games and lead second-place St. Louis by five in the Western Division.
Boston, on the other hand, although still by far the best in the East (the Celtics lead Syracuse by five games), is finding the wins coming harder, the losses occurring oftener. Russell's aching back, injuries to Cousy (pulled groin muscle) and Sam Jones (knee trouble) and Heinsohn's sudden scoring slump have all contributed to a gentle Celtic backslide. Fortunately, Clyde Lovellette, one of the best outside shooting big men in the game, and rookie John Havlicek, who can play both backcourt and the corner, have filled in admirably. But the team's age (average 28 years) is showing.
The real issue will be joined, of course, if Boston and Los Angeles meet, as they are likely to, in the championship playoffs in April. Meanwhile, the fans seem to like what is happening, even in Boston, where attendance is up, apparently because the games are much closer than they used to be. Total NBA attendance has increased 31% in a single season, led by Los Angeles, where boisterous crowds of 10,000 are going to add up to a million-dollar gross. Even Red Auerbach agrees that something is going on in L.A.—and never mind where "The Basketball Capital of the World" really is. That can be settled in April.
In the East, LaSalle Coach Dudey Moore knew he had a problem on his hands with Seton Hall's Nick Werkman, the nation's leading scorer (32.8 average). Three days earlier Werkman had scored 40 points, including the winning two, as Seton Hall beat Fairfield 93-91. Moore also knew that Werkman liked to work inside the foul lane, where he uses his twisting layups to draw fouls. Moore decided to have his team clog the middle. His Explorers moved in and out of a variety of zone defenses and still Werkman got 36 points, 14 on free throws. But La Salle's Frank Corace and Bill Raftery scored 45 between them, and Moore's better-balanced team won 89-80, its sixth straight.
Villanova, inconsistent this season, led Temple by nine points with nine minutes to go, but the Owls slipped away, scoring 13 points in a row and winning 50-49 on Elmer Snethen's foul shot with 17 seconds left. St. Joseph's survived a roughhouse brawl to beat Delaware 64-57, then easily defeated Muhlenberg 76-53.
Once-beaten Canisius hardly figured to get a tussle from weakened St. Bonaventure, but the Bonnies hustled all night and upset Canisius 71-69 when Fred Crawford sunk a 15-foot jump shot at the buzzer. Pitt, like most visiting teams, found Army tough to handle at West Point. The Panthers needed two overtime periods and eight straight free throws by Clyde Sheffield to put down the pesky Cadets 79-53.
There was trouble among the Ivies. Cornell caught league-leading Penn with its defenses dragging and beat the Quakers 78-76. Princeton was treated even more rudely when it came to Ithaca after downing Columbia 86-63. Bill Bradley sank 21 free throws without a miss and 37 points in all against Cornell, but the Big Red stopped the other Tigers and won 73-67. The top three:
1. ST. JOSEPH'S (12-3)
2. NYU (9-2)
3. PITT (11-2)
Mississippi State's Babe McCarthy was a man who knew what he was talking about before his team played unbeaten Georgia Tech at Starksville. "Boys, there won't be any upset tonight," he told his squad. "Mississippi State is the best team, and Mississippi State is going to win." So it did, 81-69. W. D. Stroud, a quick-handed guard, and Leland Mitchell, a big rebounder, made McCarthy's prediction look good scoring State's first 22 points in the second half. By the time they stopped shooting they had a game total of 55 points, and the Bulldogs led the Southeastern Conference. Mississippi was State's next foe, and succumbed, 78-64. But Auburn, an 81-78 winner over Alabama (which earlier lost to Florida 69-67), was still hot after McCarthy's team.
Meanwhile life was becoming more difficult for Kentucky's Adolph Rupp. Here it was only January and already his Wildcats had five losses, four of them at Lexington, where they usually lose about once a decade. Tennessee nibbled away at a Kentucky 16-point lead until it got to a 63-63 tie and then beat the Wildcats 78-69 in overtime.
While Duke's players were busy with exams, they acquired some company in the Atlantic Coast race. Wake Forest drew even with the Blue Devils by beating Virginia 82-62, and North Carolina was only a game behind, sweeping past Maryland 78-56, North Carolina State 67-65 in overtime, and Virginia 86-81.
In the Southern Conference, however, there wasn't anybody about to catch up with West Virginia. After warming up with an 89-73 win over Penn State, the Mountaineers fiddled around fitfully against Virginia Tech's 2-3 zone but still held off the ambitious Gobblers 86-83. The top three:
1. DUKE (12-2)
2. WEST VIRGINIA (12-3)
3. MISSISSIPPI STATE (12-3)
Missouri Valley coaches had their attention focused on Bradley's gym at Peoria last week. They agreed that if Cincinnati couldn't be stopped there, where they hadn't won in five years, the chase was hopeless. Bradley tried hard, using a baseline zone and later a 2-3, but Cincy still won 52-46, its 32nd in a row. The Bearcats, paying strict attention to their own meticulous defense, put George Wilson on Bradley's Mack Herndon, who got only 12 points. Their disciplined offense was just as dedicated, Tom Thacker and Ron Bonham each scoring 18 points.
For more than 36 minutes Northwestern had Illinois on the run, but the Big Ten leaders caught up. Then, just as the game ended, Bob Starnes threw a 55-foot shot into the basket to win for the Illini 78-76. "It was like losing a game on a wild pitch," groaned Northwestern's Bill Rohr.
Iowa, going nowhere in the Big Ten, suddenly began winning. The Hawkeyes humbled Wisconsin 65-56 and beat Ohio State 81-74. Now only idle Indiana and Minnesota, which upset Michigan 66-63 and beat Purdue 82-73, are close to Illinois.
Colorado still had the Big Eight under control The tall Buffs turned George Parsons loose against Kansas State's zone and he cracked it with eight baskets as Colorado won 70-53. Unbeaten Loyola took its 16th, beating Kent State 96-55; Notre Dame avenged an earlier loss to Butler, winning 80-54, but lost to DePaul 83-69. Then DePaul dropped one to Dayton 57-56. The top three:
1. CINCINNATI (14-0)
2. LOYOLA OF CHICAGO (16-0)
3. ILLINOIS (12-1)
While Southwest Conference teams took a time out for exams, Arizona State learned that it isn't going to have the Western AC race to itself after all. The fast-breaking Sun Devils neatly shrugged off New Mexico's ball-control game to beat the Lobos 59-47, but they couldn't quite make it past Wyoming at Laramie, where the temperature was 25° below zero. The Cowboys, who had just beaten Arizona 84-72, were as big as Arizona State and, as it turned out, tougher off the boards. Rangy Randy Richardson plucked the rebounds away and Flynn Robinson put in 25 points as Wyoming won 88-81. The top three:
1. ARIZONA STATE (15-2)
2. TEXAS A&M (10-3)
3. TEXAS (8-5)
Coach Slats Gill of Oregon State waited almost half a season for Jim Jarvis, his much-talked-about but slow-to-produce sophomore, to adjust to the vagaries of varsity basketball. Last Saturday it finally happened. Jarvis scattered Gonzaga's zone defense with six long shots, wound up with 18 points and Oregon State won 63-47.
Utah State's LaDell Andersen found patience had some rewards, too. He told his team to let Colorado State play its customary slow-down game and just to match the scoring. Utah State did, and when Colorado State lost the ball with the score tied and a minute to play, Andersen's boys were ready. Phil Johnson made six quick points and Utah State had the game 75-68.
But there wasn't enough patience in all the world to quiet Washington's John Grayson. His team scored exactly two baskets in the first half against Stanford, the second one only 12 seconds before the buzzer. Needless to say, the Indians took that game, 57-48, then beat the Huskies again, 58-49, to hold the Big Six lead.
In other games, Seattle beat Gonzaga 90-59; Idaho defeated Washington State 72-65; Brigham Young beat Utah 71-53. The top three:
1. STANFORD (12-3)
2. OREGON STATE (10-4)
3. UTAH STATE (13-3)