In the midst of the basketball scandals, ironically enough, 16 college teams fighting for a national championship were showing off the game at its glittering and unpredictable best. With a trip to this weekend's final rounds of the NCAA tournament in Kansas City at stake, the teams played in four regional tournaments that were bursting with hoopla and excitement. There was standing room only at Charlotte, N.C., where a rank outsider won, while at Louisville, where tickets were selling for $30 each, 18,000 sat in disbelief watching a local team dramatically display that Ohio State could be beaten—almost. At Lawrence, Kans. defense won when two coaches guessed wrong, and at Portland, Ore. a blazing offense produced a western champion. The class of the teams that won assured a spectacular finale at Kansas City, and the regional tournaments demonstrated that while things may be wrong with some of the people in basketball, nothing is wrong with the game itself.
At Charlotte the darling of the packed house was, naturally enough, the southern entry, Wake Forest, which had demolished highly favored St. John's earlier in the week at New York. "We're hot, and it's the hot team that wins tournaments," prophesied Wake Forest's preacher-coach Bones McKinney. He proved, however, to be a pained prophet without honor, though nonetheless correct.
On Friday night his Deacons took on the nation's third-ranked team, St. Bonaventure, and upset it 78-73 in a battle of defenses. Len Chappell, the 240-pound Wake Forest center, surprised the Bonnies with his soft outside shots and destroyed them by getting 15 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 Chappell, looking like Li'l Abner in underwear, had been stung by All-America snubs, and he led his team to heights it hadn't reached all year. Charlotte, where you couldn't buy a ticket for a week, was agog. Nobody paid much attention to St. Joseph's, which won its 14th straight when it slipped by an inspired Princeton team 72-67.
The next night Bones McKinney found out that, indeed, the hot team would win. Using two sophomore guards, Jim Lynam, a moonfaced 5-foot-8 dynamo, and scrawny 6-foot Bill Hoy, who shoots as well off balance as on, St. Joseph's ran its deliberate offense to red-hot perfection, stealing away to a 20-point lead at half time. Slope-shouldered Jack Ramsay, the St. Joseph's coach, who had spent most of the contest prayerfully on one knee, waved to the tiny Hawk rooting section as the game ended 96 to 86. Two students there, who had hitchhiked to Charlotte, immediately set off in the rain, this time hitchhiking to Kansas City.
Warm fans and a cold team
If St. Joseph's surprised everybody by winning, Ohio State surprised everybody by nearly losing. In Louisville, Man o' War could have raced eight furlongs down Walnut Street with Lady Godiva up and created no more excitement. Tickets had been impossible to get for two weeks, largely because three Kentucky schools, Louisville, Morehead State and Kentucky, were in the regional. The only outsider, of course: Ohio State. Meanwhile, thousands of fans had come into town from Ohio, with their own bands, their own bottles and their own certainty Ohio State could defeat any Kentucky team.
On Friday night Louisville caught the champions ice cold. They crowded three men around the incomparable Jerry Lucas. The Buckeyes were so bad they could only hit one outside shot in the first half, and Louisville had a five-point lead with three minutes left. That should have been enough.
But a jump shot, a stolen pass, and a three-point play by Ohio State tied the score. Then, with less than a minute to go, Louisville's handsome star, John Turner, a Hollywood-idol type who had scored 24 points, bounced the ball off his toe. Ohio State came up with it, and when an emergency scoring play failed, John Havlicek improvised a 20-footer with six seconds left. Not beaten yet, Louisville's Turner had two foul shots with one second to play, and saw the tying point roll off the rim as OSU won 56-55.
Lucas, held to nine points, his lowest total since grammar school, had also made nine errors. "I was guarded so tightly I felt like I was in jail," he said.
Kentucky had to come from behind in the second game to fend off a Morehead State team that has the same hillbilly act as Sam Snead, and is just as dangerous. "We're nothing but pore country boys," their coach, Bob Laughlin, told everyone. But with Granny Williams, a dead-eye guard from Dwarf, Ky.—an aptly named town of five homes and a backboard—the country boys scared Adolph Rupp. It took 28 points by Kentucky ace Bill Lickert for Rupp's team to win.