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A bit too much for Blighty
John Lovesey
March 14, 1966
The presence of Bill Bradley drew 500 spectators to the Oxford-Cambridge varsity match last week, but the important thing was the postgame party
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March 14, 1966

A Bit Too Much For Blighty

The presence of Bill Bradley drew 500 spectators to the Oxford-Cambridge varsity match last week, but the important thing was the postgame party

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The captain of basketball at both Oxford and Cambridge, like the captains in the other sports, is himself responsible for coaching as well as deciding who plays. As the Cambridge captain, Schram felt that though his squad did not have a single man who played the game at college level in America, and included in its starting five a Finn and an Englishman, it might be able to throw the Oxford team out of gear with organization and fitness. "They can always bust you on paper," explained Steve Cohen. "But they've still got to beat you on court." To stack up the odds in their favor, as Cambridge's players put it, they bought new uniforms and warmup suits. "We're going to ham it up a bit," said John Simon. And they came onto the court, after Oxford, to the sound of a recording of Sweet Georgia Brown obtained by Simon's mother direct from the Harlem Globetrotters.

Oxford, sartorially a sad contrast—some of its players wore sawed-off blue jeans and one used swimming shorts—had an unadorned strategy. John Wideman said it was based on the simple premise that Oxford's players were "bigger, stronger, faster, and er...smarter."

The teams already had met four times this season, Oxford winning three and losing one, when it was without Bradley and Ritch. But none of those games really counted, for some reason only an Englishman would understand. This was The Varsity Match. "This game," remarked Bradley, who flew back from playing with the Italian Simmenthal team in Milan the morning of the event, "is the only one I care about."

"How many periods are there during a match?" asked a British onlooker.

"I find the game rather mechanical. To me they just seem to run up and score, run up and score," remarked Bert Moorhouse, a Cambridge sociology student.

"I've just been wondering about the football results—how Spurs got on in the Cup," said another.

Such is the battle basketball wages in England. Still, all present agreed they enjoyed the game. Nobody said it was outstanding, but Bradley did show, as an American said, remarkable "gallantry in his desire to set up shots for other players instead of himself," and any soccer player could also marvel at his ability to pass with breathtaking accuracy while looking the other way.

At the midway mark Cambridge was trailing by 16 points at 39-23. All the Light Blues could do was work the ball around fast and shoot from outside, and that's where the bulk of their score came from. The difference was essentially height allied to the Oxford players' better handling of the ball plus their ability to work plays and take real advantage of the rebounds. The final score of 76-64, considering all this, was as much a tribute to Cambridge as Oxford, which won. John Ritch of the Oxford team was the highest scorer with 21 points, and Bradley had 17.

This was not the time for much analysis, however, because a horde of dates were waiting to be escorted to the post-game dinner and party. As much organization had gone into the combined festivities as anything else. Cambridge had even offered, together with roast ribs of beef, to provide a date for the evening to any Oxonian. But the one request, from Bill Bradley, came too late. Cambridge is a city where the ratio of male to female students is 9 to 1. Dates have to be booked weeks ahead.

Never mind. There were such other things to consider as the breeding cycle of black-headed gulls. In the British National Championship final on March 19th, Oxford, one of the teams, will probably be without one of its players, Bill McGrew. Bill is a zoologist, and his studies will almost certainly require that he watch birds. Black-headed gulls will always be more important to England than basketball.

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