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The Duke basketball team went to College Park, Md. for the East regionals of the NCAA tournament last weekend in a big blue bus wrapped like Wonder Bread in the banner: "Handle with Care. Precious Cargo Aboard. Next NCAA Champions." What's more, the confidence of the Blue Devils went much deeper than the epidermis of their bus. " Jeff Mullins [a forward] has been going around for weeks like he had a sign on his chest: 'I'm going to Louisville!' " said Coach Vic Bubas. "And he's the serious type." Bubas himself was unequivocal. "I'm convinced," he said. "I don't doubt we'll be there."
By late Saturday night it was official: confident Duke was off to Louisville for the climax of the national championship tournament, and so were the winners of the other three NCAA regional titles—Loyola of Chicago, which can match Duke chest thump for chest thump in any comparative contest, Oregon State, a competitive blushing violet that has left a lot of shocked opponents to do the blushing and. finally, Cincinnati, Ed Jucker's team of champions that is going for a third straight national title.
It should be good theater when the four meet at Louisville's Freedom Hall, for great contrasts in basketball styles are involved. Duke and Loyola, considered with Cincinnati as the best college teams in the country, are matched in the first semifinal Friday night, and they bring racehorse basketball to the horse race country. Whichever survives, it will provide the antithesis to Cincy's easy-does-it way of playing the game, a system described by one coach as "boring you to death"—this assumes, of course, that the ever-winning Bearcats get that far.
There are no believers far outside of Corvallis, Ore. in Oregon State's chances against Cincinnati in the other semifinal, but it will be remembered (mostly in Corvallis) that Cincinnati itself was given short shrift two years ago before it knocked off Ohio State in the finals. In any case, the delicious prospect of Cincinnati trying to choke off the speed of either Duke or Loyola in the Saturday night final has surely entered the minds of the 18,000 lucky ticket holders.
Cincinnati is the type of basketball team that takes, as if by slow surgery, the joy of life from its opponents. The mere prospect of playing the Bearcats is often more painful than the experience itself. When his team arrived in Lawrence, Kans. last week for the Midwest regionals, Colorado Coach Sox Walseth said, "We're happy to be here. But we were happier before we got here." After the Buffaloes beat Oklahoma City University 78-72 on Friday, Walseth, who does not look on coaching as an arcane art, told assembled writers: "I don't have many ideas on how to play Cincinnati tomorrow, but if I don't come up with some I might as well spend tomorrow night playing handball. Any of you got any ideas?"
Cincinnati, meanwhile, had worried down Texas 73-68 after falling behind eight points in the first half, and if the showing was short of invincibility it was at least convincing enough for Bearcat fans quartered at the Hotel President in Kansas City. Colorado didn't worry them a bit. What did worry them were hotel reservations and ticket requirements for Louisville and say, honey, will you be there for our big victory celebration? A dress-shop owner was frantic. He needed two tickets for the Louisville final for his daughter, who was getting married March 22. "She hasn't missed seeing Cincinnati win the national title yet," he said. "If she can't see it this time, too, it'll spoil her honeymoon."
Walseth, unassisted by the idea-less press, didn't sleep much that night, but neither, as a matter of fact, did Cincinnati Coach Jucker. "In tournament play," he fretted, "anything can happen. And there's never a second chance."
In both 1961 and 1962 Jucker had been convinced that his team was entering tournament play at its seasonal peak. This year he frankly wasn't sure. He feared the Bearcats had become flat. "We can't take anything for granted," he said as he tightened the knot in his lucky red-and-black tie, that tattered old atrocity that has been hanging around his neck like a pennant for three years. "I'm ashamed of it," he said of the tie, "but as long as we keep winning I hate to change anything."
Colorado started auspiciously. It let Tony Yates and Larry Shingleton, Cincy's outside men, shoot, while keeping Center George Wilson and hot-hand Ron Bonham away from the basket. Yates hit only two of 10 shots in the first half, and with their own Eric Lee darting in for layups and Ken Charlton arching in soft hook shots, Colorado sped to a 21-12 lead. Charlton was courageous; he had scored 25 points the night before against OCU and at midnight Friday his ailing knee was drained. Walseth said the operation was so gruesome he couldn't stand to watch it. When Charlton left the Cincy game briefly, Cincinnati followers gave him a standing ovation.
But as has become their custom in this season of many close scrapes, the Bearcats found themselves a turning point. They began putting the pressure on the Colorado feeder rather than the ball receiver. Wilson, who was getting whipped soundly under the boards, began asserting himself. By half time the Colorado lead was cut to one point.