SI Vault
Frank Deford
March 21, 1966
In the battle for the national basketball championship only Duke, Kentucky, Utah and Texas Western survive. If last week's pattern is confirmed, the final round at College Park will be the hottest in years
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 21, 1966

Now There Are Four

In the battle for the national basketball championship only Duke, Kentucky, Utah and Texas Western survive. If last week's pattern is confirmed, the final round at College Park will be the hottest in years

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

It was 8 o'clock Sunday morning in Lubbock, Texas, the morning after Texas Western upset Kansas in double overtime to win the Midwest Regional, and Don Haskins, the winning coach, was propped up in bed in Room 410 of the Eldorado Motel reading the Lubbock Sunday Avalanche-Journal. He had eaten a hamburger after the game, it had not agreed with him and he had not slept very well. The fact that his team had won two overtime games on successive nights, Haskins allowed, might also have been a contributing factor to the insomnia. But mostly, Haskins maintained, it was just the bad burger.

It is safe to assume, time zones aside, that at about this hour, in Durham, N.C., Iowa City, Iowa and Los Angeles, three other coaches were also stirring uneasily. It had been a mighty long season, starting with the players running cross-country in the fall, and now here it was March 13 and in all the land there were only three coaches besides Don Haskins, reading the Sunday paper in the Eldorado Motel, who had teams that could still win the championship.

There was Vic Bubas, home with his wife and three girls in Durham, N.C. His Duke team had just beaten St. Joseph's and Syracuse over in Raleigh to reach the NCAA finals for the third time in four years. Bubas is from Gary, Ind., a redheaded Yankee who has built a basketball dynasty at Duke and who has himself become the father image of organization and planning in his sport.

There was Adolph Rupp in Iowa City, ready to return to Lexington, Ky., where he is truly The Baron, the most famous basketball coach in history, the only man ever to coach four national champions. Kentucky had beaten Dayton and Michigan, and now, at age 64, The Baron only needed two more victories for his fifth title.

There was Jack Gardner, The Fox, in Los Angeles. His Utah team had just whipped Pacific and Oregon State, despite the fact that Gardner had lost his first-string center with a broken leg. Utah is the only school ever to win the NCAA, the NIT and the AAU back when the last-named tournament meant something. Gardner himself has won 551 games.

It is almost always the topflight coaches like these who get their teams to the finals. And it is certain that on this Sunday morning as they awoke, their first thoughts were of the games coming up on Friday night in College Park, Md. They eagerly anticipated the return of their scouts from the other regionals, laden with the precious raw material of X's and O's. The season had gone too far, and the stakes were too high, to leave anything to chance.

The phone rang in Room 410 at the Eldorado Motel, and Haskins picked it up to talk to a sportswriter. He discussed the game played the night before and his experience with the bum hamburger. Then he was asked about Texas Western's next game. Had he seen Utah play?" "Hey look," Haskins replied. "You can help me about that. Is that the way it works? Do we play Utah next?"

There is something awfully charming about such naivet�, even if it does not paint a perfectly accurate picture. Haskins is no country-cousin innocent to the basketball wars. He traveled the land to recruit his Texas Western team that is now 26-1. And he, too, has established a dynasty out there in El Paso, putting together a 106-26 record since he arrived five years ago to build a team around Jim (Bad News) Barnes. Even compared to the efficiency experts at Duke, Kentucky and Utah, he and Texas Western have come a long way.

They remain factors to be reckoned with at College Park. The Miners, superbly coached and tough, should get to the finals, past Utah, and should have an easier time doing it than the team that survives the Duke-Kentucky game. If Duke's rebounding carries the Blue Devils past Kentucky, Texas Western must be given a chance to win it all. The Miners can neutralize the Duke board strength, and their steady style will restrict Duke's running game. Duke has done poorly when forced to settle down and set up patterns.

The edge should be with Kentucky, however, if it is a Wildcat-Miner final—and that is what appears most likely. Kentucky has the speed and shooting to break the rugged Miners. "We get our toughest games from the smaller, quick teams," Haskins admits. "We'd much rather come up against a taller team that's a little bit slower than we are."

Continue Story
1 2