For weeks Oregon State had been quietly knocking over all comers. Even Coach Slats Gill, an old hand at the basketball business (34 years), was ready to admit that this was his best team ever. Last Friday at Eugene, the eager Beavers showed how good they really are. While 7-foot sophomore Mel Counts and 6-foot-7 Jay Carty swept the boards, State shocked Oregon with a fast break, Carty flipped two-hand jumpers over the Webfoots for 25 points, and the Beavers won 79-63. Next night at Corvallis, it was Counts's turn to devastate Oregon. After a desultory first half, he roamed the pivot for 26 points as Oregon State won again, 82-66, for its 15th straight.
Only one thing was certain in the Big Five: It would take more than a big reputation to catch front-running UCLA. Coach Johnny Wooden knew that he had to stop USC's Big John Rudometkin to win. His Bruins did. Fred Slaughter, a tenacious 6-foot-5 sophomore, harassed Rudometkin in the pivot and broke down USC's planned attack, and Playmaker Walt Hazzard moved the Bruins in and out of fast breaks and screening patterns. Meanwhile, pop-shooter Johnny Green hit his first six shots, went on to score 28 points, and UCLA upset the Trojans 73-59.
Perhaps the Skyline Conference won't be embarrassed after all by having a second-place team represent it in the NCAA tournament. Colorado State U., slumping badly for weeks, suddenly came alive against tournament-banned Utah. The Rams didn't quite handcuff Billy McGill, who broke away from his tormentors for 30 points, but they did surprise the Utes, 74-59, to take over first place. Now the battle was between CSU and Utah State, which had its troubles before ailing Cornell Green came off the bench to lead it to an 83-79 overtime win over Denver. The top three:
1. OREGON STATE (16-1)
2. USC (12-4)
3. UTAH (16-3)
Kentucky's volatile Adolph Rupp had the SEC eating out of his hand. Georgia Tech and Florida tried to hem in Cotton Nash, Larry Pursiful and Rupp's other fine players with a zone, but it was like trying to snare wildcats with a mousetrap. They drove through it and shot over it, and Kentucky won 71-62 and 81-69. In between, Georgia succumbed 86-59. Mississippi State and Tulane were still in contention, and Auburn was not far off, but it would take a super effort to beat the Wildcats.
With North Carolina coming up, Duke Coach Vic Bubas had a problem. Art Hey-man, his top scorer and driver, had a sprained ankle. But the Tar Heels unwittingly helped him solve it by shifting from a box-and-one to a man-to-man. Bubas simply used Heyman as a decoy and put Jeff Mullins in the driving position. Mullins scored 24 points, and Duke beat North Carolina 79-57 to hold its lead over Wake Forest (which beat South Carolina 78-74 and Clemson 83-82) in the ACC.
Virginia Tech lured Southern Conference leader West Virginia to Blacksburg for the first time in seven years and then, while a screaming crowd of 10,000 made enough noise to raise the roof of Tech's new gym, upset the Mountaineers 85-82. Davidson, streaking merrily after losing its first six games, whomped Georgia Southern 84-64, Erskine 71-57 and William & Mary 61-54 for its 11th straight. The top three:
1. KENTUCKY (16-1)
2. DUKE (14-2)
3. MISSISSIPPI STATE (16-1)