Shortly after Santa Clara left for its hotel and bed, the Cincinnati team arrived at the gym and went through a rugged hour drill. "They need work," said Coach Ed Jucker. When the practice was over Jucker and his boys boarded their bus, which promptly got stuck in the snow. Jucker moaned. Then the bus got lost. Jucker, who believes such things are omens, moaned again.
That evening the coaches of the top three teams—Jucker, Ireland and Harry Combes of Illinois—were interviewed together. Ireland and Combes, both of whom swear by lickety-split basketball, needled Jucker. "I saw a column in the paper today," said Ireland. "The writer says that Cincinnati's style of play is as attractive as kissing a wet mop." Ireland laughed. Combes laughed. The onlookers laughed. Jucker smiled, but the smile could have slit a throat. When the interview was over the three coaches shook hands like three ministers of state. Art Morse rushed up and tried to embrace all of them at once, but each was already headed in a separate direction.
On Saturday morning Harry Combes sat in his hotel suite sucking on a cough drop. "I've been fighting the flu all week," he said. He coughed violently, his lean body shaking. "This is a new cough drop with a liquid center—the liquid gets you."
Combes and most of the Illinois team had seen Cincinnati's game against Bradley in Peoria. At the time, he was asked how Cincinnati looked. "Well, it depends on what kind of game you came to see," he had answered. "Both teams were well disciplined." What Combes meant is that if you like defensive basketball that's your business.
The last spectator who could squeeze in had hardly gotten a firm hold on an I beam in the rafters of Chicago Stadium on Saturday night when Santa Clara's Dick Garibaldi discovered he had been worrying about the wrong thing. The Santa Clara guards handled Loyola's press with ease and cut up the rest of the Rambler defense—this being an aspect of the game that apparently bores the Chicago team. What Santa Clara never got close to was a rebound. Almost every Loyola shot, if missed, was followed by a series of taps. Santa Clara got only 41 rebounds, Loyola's high jumpers came down with 64.
Still, with 12 minutes to go, the score was tied 59-59. Then Loyola made eight straight points, wrapped up the game and began playing for headlines. It used a full-court press down to the final whistle as it ran up the score, and seemed disappointed with only 92 points.
The second game was equally revealing, for it showed that on certain nights, at least, Cincinnati can be had. After 10 good minutes the normally crisp Bearcat offense went limp. Then Cincinnati's fine guard, Tony Yates, got himself in foul trouble—an unheard-of development—and the Bearcat defense began lagging too, perhaps showing the effect of the examination week layoff. But what Cincinnati essentially displayed was a dulling supercaution instead of its usual grand �lan.
However, if Cincy was troubled, Illinois was a couch case. Not all the liquid-center cough drops in Chicago could have subdued Coach Combes's strangled cries as his normally excellent bunch of marksmen took 35 shots in the first half and managed to sink just nine. This unexpected display of blah sent Illinois off the court trailing by 33-23. The Illini tried to come back in the second half, but never hit their normal shooting stride. Illinois did cut the Cincinnati lead to four points, 34-30, thanks largely to the play of Tal Brody, a superb sophomore guard who somehow managed to keep up with Yates, run his own team, too, and turn in perhaps the most impressive single performance of the night. But when the score got that close, Cincinnati slowed the play down. The Bearcats' excellent shot, Ron Bonham, took what field-goal tries Cincy cared to risk. Finally, with five minutes left and a nine-point lead, Cincinnati shifted from slowdown to deep freeze, and refused to shoot at all. The boos rattled the stadium roof, but nothing rattles a Cincinnati stall and Illinois was beaten. As Ed Jucker led the champions off the floor they were heartily booed some more. "Why were they all booing?" asked Jucker in the locker room, genuinely puzzled. "I mean, the object is to win. What are we supposed to do? Give them the ball?" He had a point. His team had suffered through an off night against a major foe and still come away with a victory.
The basketball-wise crowd at the stadium filed out into the snow feeling just a little disappointed. It had indeed seen the country's top three teams, but none of them had actually performed as well as they could. Yet it did come away with one big, exciting question to ponder. If the country's best offense, Loyola, played the country's best defense, Cincinnati, who would win? The teams won't face each other this year—unless they meet in the NCAA tournament—but you can bet that Matchmaker Morse is already hard at work trying to arrange just that game for next season.