Rupp called to check on Conley and then went to Washington to accept various Coach of the Year awards from an assemblage of basketball writers. Although other coaches spoke, too, Haskins made a particular hit with the story of how he got out of coaching girls' basketball. "I was tired of it," he explained, "so near the end of the season I suggested one day we scrimmage skins and shirts. I was coaching the boys the next year." His Texas Western players were out seeing the Capitol and the Washington Monument. They had hoped to have an audience with another Texan, but L.B.J. was busy.
The Kentucky cheerleaders were luckier. Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper had them over for lunch, and who should turn up at the next table but the man from U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn. Crossing party lines and ignoring all the Senators, the girls swarmed around Vaughn.
Haskins was beginning to feel a little like those Senators. "I wonder," he said, on the way back to College Park, after sharing the floor with Rupp, "I really wonder whether he knows who I am yet. Oh, well," he shrugged, lighting another cigarette, "maybe he will by tomorrow night."
Rupp, in turn, was concerned only with Duke and a game that nearly everyone presumed would be the real championship test: whoever won would have no trouble with the western contender. At the start Kentucky rushed to a 23-14 lead. Conley hit his first shot, but in a a few minutes he began to gasp and took himself out. Verga went to the Duke bench soon after and he was never himself in this game. His illness had robbed him of the spring in his legs, and the power for the jump shot that had made him Duke's 19.2 scorer over the season. He made only one jumper and had four points in the game. "No spring, no bounce, no life," he said afterward. But Jack Marin, along with Center Mike Lewis, moved Duke back into the lead. Rupp tried to stop the Blue Devils with a one-three-one zone, but Duke shot that to bits quickly, and Kentucky hurried back to a man-to-man. Don Haskins, whose team had no shooters in Duke's class, was the most interested observer in the field house. He began to figure, correctly, that if Kentucky won and the Miners won, Texas Western would see that one-three-one zone in the finals.
The second half was a seesaw, until finally Riley and Louie Dampier put together a fast break that moved Kentucky ahead by four points with 3:31 left. The battle was even from there until Duke missed a good shot two minutes later. Tommy Kron got the rebound and pitched it out to Conley, who was moving up the middle on a three-on-two fast break. "I saw the Duke guys flare out just a little," he said later. He drove all the way in with virtually his last breath to give Kentucky an insurmountable six-point lead. "That was the tough one, that was the tough one," Vic Bubas said. Three times in four years Bubas had led his Duke team to the final four, only to lose.
Haskins' team, as expected, beat Utah, 85-78. All that kept Utah in contention was Jerry Chambers, probably the best player in the tournament. He made 38 points against the Miners, the most scored against them since Haskins arrived five years ago. When Haskins' four big men—Dave Lattin, Shed, Harry Flournoy and Willie Cager—got into foul trouble, he brought in Jerry Armstrong, and Armstrong came closer to stopping Chambers than the regulars had. The Miners won easily, but they were not happy. "The officials called it like a girls' game," said Lattin—Big Daddy D—who fouled out. "Baby fouls," said Shed. "They called baby fouls."
Haskins also was mad at the officials, and at his players as well. His head still hurt. He did pause to kiss his wife at the motel but then went off with Cornwall to have a few beers in his room. Suddenly, from the parking lot, there were loud, raucous noises that turned out to belong to some University of Maryland students with a few beers of their own. They were carousing aimlessly, but Haskins, worried that they would keep his players awake, invited them in. And then, through the early morning hours of the day he was to become coach of the national champions, Haskins sat and drank beer and made small talk with half a dozen strange kids. They liked him and listened to him, and when they left he gave them a few beers to take out. They went quietly, the Miners slept, and Haskins leaned back with a last beer and a thought. "Once in a life-time," he said. "You know, this is once in a lifetime." It was pointed out that Haskins was young and would have another team in the championship. "No," he said. "No chance. Mr. Rupp is 64, and he made it a lot of times, but it's probably going to be just once in a lifetime for me."
Saturday was Texas Western's day, and it was the one that counted. It was to end in El Paso with bonfires and orange bunting all over town and two riot squads to calm down the homefolks. In Maryland the band played Miners Fight over and over, and they all screamed "We're No. 1." Haskins got more aspirin for his head and smoked more cigarettes and said. "This may never happen to me again." Before the game Haskins let his players do as they pleased—no chalk talks or strategy sessions. He had one surprise in store for Kentucky but planned to stick with his basic game, which is man-for-man on defense and a loose free-lance attack. Big Daddy D Lattin, Western's intimidator at center, slept most of the day, stirring only for meals and a chat with Bobby Joe Hill's female cousins. Harry Flournoy, the team's top rebounder, nursed a sore knee. Willie Cager's pretty girl friend, Roselle Leader, came down from New York to watch Willie in the finals.
The Kentucky players also lolled about, marking time until they could file onto the team bus. The manager, Mike Harreld, counted them, just to be sure, before boarding himself. Harreld carried an extra suit with him, complete with shirt and tie, all hanging in a plastic bag. If Kentucky won, he expected to be thrown into the shower.
As Haskins had anticipated, Kentucky was planning to use the one-three-one zone. Haskins' surprise for Rupp was a three-guard lineup. Hill, 5 feet 9, and Orsten Artis, 6 feet 1, were the regular backcourt starters, and he decided to use 5-foot-6 Willie Worsley in place of big Shed, to get more speed in against the very speedy Wildcats. All three played the whole game.