THE RAMBLERS WRECK CINCY

Conservative Cincinnati had its third straight national championship all but won. Then brash Loyola broke through the Bearcat stall for an almost unbelievable last-second victory
April 01, 1963

In the dark of the early morning on the day his team was to win the national championship and save Cincinnati from the extravagance of being champion three years in a row, Loyola Coach George Ireland got out of bed at Louisville's Sheraton Hotel and headed for the shower. "I can't sleep," he told his wife Gertrude. "Every time I close my eyes I see basketball players running up and down the floor." "I do, too," said Gertrude, "so while you're up, bring me a glass of ice water, will you please? My mouth is dry." Down the hall in another room, their daughter Kathy, who leads cheers for the Loyola team and who is herself an aspiring insomniac, put a pillow over her pretty ears in a last-ditch effort to shut out the Cincinnati fans singing Jesus Loves Me at an irreverent pitch in the room next door. She tried to say her prayers and found it was no use because "I kept seeing myself kicking up another Loyola cheer: 'one, two, one-two-three....' "

Not too long after that, Coach Ireland dressed and went downstairs for a team meeting, only to discover he was an hour early. He came back up again. "I've got the best basketball team in the country," he announced to his wife. "I know you do, George," she said. "Tonight we'll prove it," he said. "But, oh, boy, what a critical audience to have to play to—750 coaches—and their wives." Gertrude Ireland laughed.

Meanwhile, around the corner at the Kentucky Hotel in an executive suite 12 stories higher than Ireland's room at the Sheraton, Coach Ed Jucker of Cincinnati got up from what he said had been a "good night's sleep" and busied himself with final preparations for his team's defense of the championship. "No one has ever won three in a row." he said, "and we want to very badly. I feel we can." If he had dreamed, it would surely not have been of these things: of his impregnable, imperturbable, grade-A homogenized Bearcats frittering away a 15-point lead—quickly, like sugar pouring through a hole in a sack: of the Bearcats making more fielding mistakes than Marv Throneberry, getting into bad foul trouble, failing to call time out when 19,153 second-guessers (including the 750 coaches in town for their annual meeting) at Freedom Hall knew it was the only thing to do, lurching into overtime with the play taken away from them, being upstaged in the final scene by somebody else's stall tactics, and, in the very last second of an overtime period, losing to Loyola of Chicago 60-58. That's not the stuff of dreams, it's the stuff of nightmares. It is also exactly what happened to Ed Jucker's Cincinnati team last weekend in Louisville.

Up to the moments of that crushing climax, Louisville had belonged to Jucker's favored Bearcats. A lapel was not stylish if it wasn't pinned with a "Cincy" button, and if you were undecided, the hawkers along Fourth Street would sell you an "I Like Sex" badge, same price. Jucker's boys peered out from glossy pictures in jewelry store windows. The handsome Jucker family (wife and four kids) smiled two columns wide from the pages of The Courier-Journal and the coach was revealed to be a "chicken-and-ham" eater.

The town was alive to the prospect of seeing Jucker's expert stylists match up with Loyola or Duke, the speed entries, in the championship game (Oregon State simply did not figure to have a chance in its Friday night semifinal with the Bearcats). You couldn't buy a ticket either night even if you were Happy Chandler. One Cincinnati group of 13 had reserved hotel rooms a year ago—but didn't have seat one in Freedom Hall for Friday. Another Cincinnati rooter, a lady, walked around town with a sign hung around her neck: "Wanted, desperately, two tickets for tonight."

But if Louisville was familiar with the champion Bearcats, what of Coach Ireland? If the truth were known, he, too, was very familiar with Cincy. This is the kind of confidence George Ireland has: he began sending his scouts to see Cincinnati play as early as last December, knowing full well the only chance he had of ever meeting the Bearcats would be in the championship game in Louisville. And to get that far, his Ramblers had to swim the Tiber, climb Kilimanjaro and go over Niagara Falls in a grocery bag. Naturally, they did these things with ease. In earlier rounds of the NCAA tournament they knocked off the Southeastern Conference champion (Mississippi State), the Big Ten co-champion (Illinois) and, in their semifinal in Louisville on Friday, Atlantic Coast Conference champion Duke, 94-75. When Ireland and Assistant Nick Kladis sat down to watch Cincinnati take Oregon State apart 80-46 in the second game, it was the 10th time one or the other had seen the Bearcats this season. By contrast, Jucker said he had scouted Loyola only twice.

Loyola players call Ireland "The Man" and they hold him in awe. He is athletic director as well as basketball coach at the sprawling Chicago school, and on especially busy days—e.g., when his part-time secretary isn't there—he is known to be quite grim. Other times, most of the time, he is animated and waggish.

On basketball theory, however, Ireland is single-minded. He plays to run and shoot. "The object of the game is to put the ball in the basket," he says, and Loyola does it with greater regularity than any team in the country. He defies you to say his attack lacks order. "Undisciplined? You called us undisciplined?" He challenged a writer who had been so unschooled as to use such a sappy word. "Listen," he said. "When I tell these boys to sweat, they sweat."

"This is a good bunch of kids," he continued. "Relaxed but sensitive. Leslie Hunter gets tears in his eyes when you correct him. Of course, everybody says we don't play much of a schedule, and we've got a fat little guy (5 feet 9) at guard in Johnny Egan, and Jerry Harkness shoots two-handed foul shots. Nobody seemed to want him until he came with us and made All-America."

On the day of the championship game, Ireland sat in conference with his assistants at the Sheraton. "Can we board [outrebound] Cincinnati?" he asked, and answered himself, "I think we can. Can we press them? I think we can. We'll drive on them, drive for the basket. We'll make them play our game instead of standing around like they do. I think we can make them foul, and I don't think their big boy [George Wilson] is strong enough to handle ours [Hunter]. But Vic Rouse will have to be alert when they start picking off for that Ron Bonham."

Jucker makes it easy to plot his stratagems because he wrote a book on the subject, Cincinnati Power Basketball, and, being prim about it, is not wont to deviate from the text. He depends on execution, and no one will deny that Jucker's teams have been the best executioners in the business for three years. "He gives us three weeks of defense before we're allowed a shot in scrimmage," says Bonham. "Even a lousy defensive player like me learned something."

The sell-out-and-then-some crowd in Freedom Hall that night fretted as Duke squashed Oregon State in the consolation game 85-63, and then settled down to savor the sight of offense with a big "O" against defense with a big "D." The game had hardly begun, however, when it looked as if the fastest guns in basketball weren't going to maim anybody but themselves. They missed 13 of their first 14 shots, and Cincinnati, reacting beautifully in its custom, was refusing to let the Ramblers run. Steadfast in their own careful offense, with Tony Yates and Larry Shingleton and Tom Thacker watching coldly for the break or pick that would spring Bonham or Center George Wilson loose for an easy shot, the Bearcats moved out quickly to 19-9. By half time it was 29-21. The Loyola shooting had been dreadful, eight baskets in 34 attempts. All-America Harkness had been held to zero points by almost All-America Yates.

"I'm not going to bawl you out," Ireland told his team, father-to-son-like, at half time. "The ball's just not dropping for you. But it will. You're getting the shots and it will. You're a better team than they are."

Cincinnati came out to make it a rout in the second half. The Bearcats sank five out of six shots in one stretch. Then Bonham hit three in a row as Wilson screened out Rouse, and, with 12 minutes to play, Cincy led by a devastating 45-30. But, subtly, a change was taking place. Pressured perhaps more than they have ever been—though Jucker denied this later—the usually errorless Bearcats began turning over the ball on mistakes, and even worse, got into foul trouble.

Now the Loyola drivers were scoring instead of missing. At 10:21, with the score 45-33, Wilson acquired his fourth foul, and Jucker hurried in Dale Heidotting, his "bench." Heidotting was the only substitute of the game, and he was in for only four minutes. Cincy now stopped shooting. In fact, its top scorer, Bonham, went the last 17 minutes of the game, including the overtime, without getting off a shot. Supercautious because there were now four fouls each on Thacker, Wilson and Yates, the Bearcats stalled—which is their custom, too. They generally make the free throws they're afforded when the stall becomes so maddening that the opposition fouls trying to get the ball. But this time Cincy was missing one foul shot out of every two. The once huge lead dwindled unbelievably: 48-39, 48-43, 50-48.

Time was still in Cincinnati's favor when Harkness intentionally fouled Shingleton with 12 seconds to play and the Bearcats leading by 53-52. Shingleton made the first free throw and grinned back at Yates. One more would clinch it. But the shot dribbled off the rim to Hunter and, quicker than you can say it, the ball was down-court to Harkness, he had it in the basket, and the score was tied 54 all. There were five seconds left in regulation time, but Cincy didn't call time out to set up one last shot. Jucker said later he yelled but couldn't be heard above the crowd, which by this time was wild.

In the overtime, baskets were traded until it was 5858. Loyola was then in possession with 2:15 to play and, except for one brief moment when Shingleton tied up Egan and forced a jump, the Ramblers whiled away the seconds playing for one shot. By design it would be set up for Harkness, their best. Bonham was on Harkness now as he dribbled to the left corner, circled under and came up to shoot. Bonham was still there, slapping at the ball—and Harkness passed off to Hunter in the middle. Hunter shot and missed—right into the hands of Rouse on the right side. "I didn't tip it in," Rouse said later. "I grabbed it, tight, jumped up and laid it in. I'd missed a couple like that and I wanted to be so sure. Oh, my, it felt good."

Bedlam followed, as if on cue. A Cincinnati fan hit a Loyola fan with a chair, but the Loyola fan didn't seem to mind. Egan, the tough little fatty, screamed something about "winning this for Chicago" into a radio mike. There were huge clusters of fans and bands around the dressing rooms, and, indiscriminately, both sides were claiming "No. 1, No. 1, No. 1" with raised fists.

Jucker said he forced 93-points-a-game Loyola to play Cincy's game and considered 60 points and 61 Loyola misses out of 84 shots a job well done—"except for the fouls and the finish." He could have noted that his deliberate team would have won easily if it had not done what no deliberate team can afford to do: lose the ball 16 times on errors. (Loyola, playing at a pace where errors are expected, lost the ball only three times.)

Ireland, meanwhile, said it was his team that forced the action, forced the fouls, harassed the Bearcats into their mistakes and, ultimately, beat them with a stall right out of the Jucker book.

Both coaches were right. It had been a stirring contest of master planners, of offense and defense, and if this game went to the offense, and rightfully so, it wasn't nearly decisive enough to make a convert of Ed Jucker. He has two of those national championship trophies back in Cincinnati, gold-plated testimony to the virtues of defense. But now George Ireland has one in Chicago in the name of run-and-shoot. What's more, four of his starters are back next year. The Jesuit Fathers at Loyola had better build George a trophy case—and while they're at it, how about a full-time secretary, and some sleeping pills for daughter Kathy?

PHOTORICH CLARKSONLeaping high over Ron Bonham, who didn't dare risk another foul, Jerry Harkness gets off the crucial jump shot that brought Loyola within two points of struggling Cincinnati less than three minutes before the end.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)