It was Cinderella in ivy. But can Princeton, Princeton University, be Cinderella? Princeton of the Philadelphia bluebloods? Princeton, which just a few weeks ago was given $27 million by one person. Cinderella, this? Yes.
Never has a group of poor little rich boys been so popular as the Princeton basketball team that won the Eastern Regional title of the NCAA tournament last Saturday. Princeton has not been such a national threat since Aaron Burr, class of 1772, very nearly set up his own empire in the Middle West. But there the Tigers were in College Park, Md., beating North Carolina State 66-48 and absolutely ruining Providence, the fourth-ranked team in the nation, 109-69.
Bill Bradley was magnificent. He made 14 of 20 shots, all 13 of his free throws—41 points—and he had nine assists and 10 rebounds. "I'll just tell them that he's the greatest that ever lived," said Tom Jorgenson, who was scouting for Michigan, "because they won't believe anything else I tell them." (Michigan won its regional title and will meet Princeton on Friday in Portland for the eastern championship. It is the first time in 21 years that an Ivy League team has gone so far in the NCAAs, and no Ivy team has ever won. Defending champion UCLA and Wichita will also meet Friday for the western title. The grand final is Saturday.)
Suddenly the adoration of Bradley has spread to embrace the whole Princeton team, and the Tigers are the darlings of college basketball. In New York even Notre Dame's famous subway alumni were, temporarily, diverting their allegiance to Princeton. The normally blasé Princeton student body showed up 1,000 strong to welcome the team back to the campus.
March 22, 1965
And it was the whole team that everyone was cheering. It was the whole Princeton team that shot 68.3% against Providence (while Bradley shot 70%) and 72.7% in the second half. In one stretch the Tigers went 12 minutes without missing a shot—14 straight from the floor and the free-throw line. They outrebounded the Friars, they outdefensed them, outran them when that was the game and patiently destroyed the strong Providence combination defense when things slowed down. By his presence Bradley makes all of this possible, because the opposition must concentrate on him, but never before had his teammates been so skillful at capitalizing on this advantage.
Princeton on Saturday was the best team in the country—and that includes UCLA, which has regained its championship pace. It is true that the season's record indicates powerful Michigan should beat Princeton Friday and UCLA should then retain its title Saturday, but such routine reasoning will be meaningless if Bradley and Princeton maintain their momentum. Then the new subway alumni would never go back to Notre Dame, and the old real alumni would give even more cash to poor Princeton.
If the whole team is touched by star-dust now, it is partly because Princeton should have been taken much more seriously all along. For the Tigers lost only five games all year, and all but one of those by one or two points. Princeton has now won 13 in a row because the team—not Bradley—is so improved. As marvelous as Bradley was against Providence, he did not dominate the game nearly so impressively as he did the night of the famous loss to Michigan in the Holiday Festival in December. In both games he had 41 points, but the other Tigers made only 37 against Michigan. They made 68 against Providence. And that is just about how much the Ivy League champions have improved.
The best of the other Tigers is 6-foot-6 Ed Hummer, a sophomore who was a high school All-America. Hummer has been slow to develop but now—brimming with confidence and a good measure of the special Bradley psychology—he has become a topflight player. "He's a good one," Providence Coach Joe Mullaney said while scouting Hummer in the North Carolina State game. "If we concentrate on Bradley, he could kill us." Hummer got 13 against Providence, but his rebounding was even more impressive than his scoring. Princeton Coach Bill van Breda Kolff does not start Hummer, preferring to have him come off the bench and juice things up. But two sophomores do start. Playmaker Gary Walters, 5 feet 10, is a poised first-year man who can beat a press. He had six assists against the Friars. Robby Brown, the center, is built in the image of what people expect Princetons to be, except that he is also built 6 feet 9 inches high. Brown went to Exeter. He is the son of a Princeton man who works for the college as Director of Career and Studies Service. Brown has improved steadily all through the year, and made his season high of 14 against Providence.
The other two starters are juniors—Bob Haarlow, a forward though he is only 6 feet 2, and Guard Don Rodenbach. Both are good outside shots, and both can play defense. Haarlow, the middle of three brothers to play for Princeton and the son of the supervisor of Big Ten officials, had 18 against the Friars and held his man scoreless. Rodenbach was a hotshot in high school, scoring as high as 59. He has had no more than 15 this year, but he has done a good job on defense, against Cazzie Russell among others.
Much of the team's improvement came when Bradley skipped several practices because of an injured leg. Without him, the others had to learn how to help themselves. Still, too much of a good thing—in this case, a balanced attack—would ruin Princeton in Portland. The Tigers need Bill Bradley, running wild. Against Providence he took a long shot the first time he got the ball, made it and the team's first five points. The reaction was what it always is when he starts off tough. Teams that see him for the first time are not only rattled by his play, but apparently are mesmerized by his notices. When Bradley starts off like the legend, his effect on the opposition is demoralizing. And the crowd cheers as if it is in on something, adding to the momentum and increasing the pressure. As the Providence game demonstrated, Bradley's greatest efforts are drawn from him by Princeton's toughest opponents. So thoroughly does he control the action supposed to be shared by 10 men in fairly equal measure that many think he already has surpassed Oscar Robertson as the greatest college player in history.
Princeton's rout of the East shoved the three other regional affairs into the background, even though they were closer, more exciting games. Michigan, as usual, had to come from behind to beat Vanderbilt and, just as usual, it was Cazzie Russell leading the charge. The Wolverines were down 80-77 with 2:42 left but won 87-85 despite big Clyde Lee's 28 points and 20 rebounds and despite smaller Vandy's overall rebounding edge.
In Provo, Brigham Young was supposed to worry defending champion UCLA, and it did for the whole previous week and the first 15 minutes of the game. Then Keith Erickson, who had been sick with the flu and had not even been able to run the day before, went on a binge. With UCLA behind 30-29, Erickson made three baskets in 45 seconds. Edgar Lacey added another, and then Erickson threw in three more to make it 43-34. As the last of this batch swished through, Pete Peletta, the coach of San Francisco who was scouting his next night's opponent, took out a pencil and wrote firmly on a program: "Lights out." It was. The BYU challenge ended 24 down, 100-76. It was Peletta's Dons who gave UCLA their fight, on Saturday.
The expected UCLA blitz came, but not until late in the game, with USF on top 83-82. Then Erickson and All-America Gail Goodrich led an 11-2 streak that iced it. Erickson, who seldom scores so high, made 29 that night and 28 on Friday, while Goodrich had 40 and 30, but USF's Ollie Johnson stole the show with successive personal highs of 35 and 37.
The UCLA press hurt San Francisco, which lost the ball 17 times on errors. UCLA had only nine turnovers, a remarkably low figure. But these Bruins are so composed that they often look like professionals. They seldom change expression. Erickson walked by his roommate, Goodrich, after the BYU game, in which Goodrich had set a school record of 40 points: not breaking his stride and hardly turning his head, Erickson said, "Heard you scored some points." Goodrich permitted himself a smile.
The Bruins are playing splendidly, perhaps better than ever before, this year or last. They should roll easily over Wichita State, a gritty team that somehow made it this far even after All-America Dave Stallworth ran out of eligibility at midyear and Center Nate Bowman flunked out. Kelly Pete's scoring and rebounding (he is only 6 feet 1) led the Wheat-shockers to victory over minimal competition. Going more and more to their new delay game, they took only 17 shots in the first half against Oklahoma State and only 12 in the second. But Wichita State had the lead and Oklahoma State stayed back in its sagging man-to-man defense, and things just dawdled along that way.
Wichita's strategy was sound and it was executed well-nigh perfectly, but in essence it is negative, and it will not work against UCLA, which attacks and gambles. Wichita also depends a great deal on a full-court press, but UCLA has a better one and better personnel.
So UCLA's challenge must come from the East—from Michigan or Princeton. In their December meeting in the Holiday Festival, Michigan rallied from 12 points behind, after Bradley fouled out, to win 80-78. In the shell-shocked Princeton locker room afterward, Bradley stood up and told his teammates that this was no one-night stand, no fluke. They must regroup, he said, win the league, win the regional and beat Michigan next time. Last Sunday the Tigers came back from College Park, and the crowd hoisted Bradley and the other players up on the top of the team bus. The band was there and all those students. "We have been thinking of only one thing since December 30," Bradley told them. Naturally, he remembered the date. "We have been thinking about beating Michigan." Then the band played Old Nassau, and the Tigers all sang, touching their right hands to their hearts and then extending their arms, as is traditional.
Two weeks ago the Princeton senior class officers stole the clapper from the Nassau Hall bell to present to Bradley. It was a desperate choice of a gift for a young man who has everything, perhaps, except a watch that is engraved NCAA CHAMPIONS. That you have to get for yourself.