Before his premature end, Lanier was asked how he would go about beating his own team. "I'd front me, surround me and gamble on us missing from outside," he said. "When you cut off the pass to the corners and collapse inside, we're hurting."
This sounds suspiciously like what Jacksonville would do, though of course the Dolphins do not play defense as mortal man knows it. However, just the presence of Gilmore and his shot-blocking prowess—laterally, he is as mobile as Lanier, just as quick and three inches taller—probably would have cut off half of the effectiveness of the Big Cat inside. That could have been enough for Jacksonville, with superior personnel through the rest of the lineup, to win. Without Lanier now, St. Bonaventure is no closer to God nor to the final game in College Park.
In the Mideast Regional at Columbus, Ohio, Gilmore contributed 54 of the 848 total points scored by Jacksonville, Kentucky, Iowa and Notre Dame. But in such an assemblage of bazooka gunners, the first defensive move should have brought a standing ovation—and Gilmore was one of the few men to make such a move. It came shortly after he and Kentucky's 6'8" star, Dan Issel, had traded baskets to open their teams' battle for the regional title. Issel started a drive into the lane, went up for his shot and was practically decapitated when Gilmore slammed the ball away. Psychology or no, the game may have turned right then, for Issel was visibly shaky the rest of the afternoon.
The Dolphins, sparked by Chip Dublin, who came off the bench to score 19 points, led 72-60 before Issel began to assert himself with nine straight points. But as he moved downcourt to set up on offense with 10 minutes to play, Issel slammed into Vaughn Wedeking for his fifth foul and went to the bench in tears. Kentucky gamely fought back to within two points with slightly more than a minute to go, but Rex Morgan's one-hander and his two free throws saved it for Jacksonville 106-100.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville barely escaped from the clutches of Iowa when Pembrook Burrows rebounded Wedeking's 25-footer with three seconds left to win 104-103. Presumably, the Dolphins' good fortune was emanating from Joltin' Joe Williams' white double-breasted sports coat—a 36th birthday gift from his players that Williams purchased especially for the NCAA tournament. "I tried to get an outfit Artis would like," said the new scourge of men's wear.
Though the Dolphins won the strongest regional, they have yet to face a good defensive team in the tournament, and their inability to protect the ball at the end of both victories in Columbus may be a portent of things to come against the winner in the West.
New Mexico State's burr-haired coach, Lou Henson, does not have a white sports coat, but lately he has gone to buckle shoes and plaid slacks in order, as he says, "to conform to my team." His brilliant one-on-one guard, Jimmy Collins—who led the Aggies in their victories over Kansas State 70-66 and Drake 87-78 for the Midwest Regional championship—says Henson may "break out a pair of bell-bottoms any day now. I believe he can't grow hair, but lately he's been trying to come out in other ways."
Four weeks ago New Mexico State came out with red and white buttons declaring Numero Uno, but their prospects for that magic number looked extremely dim late in the game with Kansas State. The Wildcats, taking 27 more shots and 14 more rebounds than the taller Aggies, came from 18 points behind to grab the lead before Henson went to what Drake Coach Maury John smilingly referred to as "his Jimmy Collins offense." Automatically, as it happened, his teammates cleared out a side for him, and Collins scored nine points down the stretch as New Mexico State pulled away.
Drake, which had abandoned its Zombie Jamboree defense ("back-to-back, belly-to-belly") for a 1-3-1 zone to defeat Houston 92-87, figured to contain the Aggies' size with the same zone. But their man-to-man worked more efficiently, and they played New Mexico State even for 10 minutes in the title game. Then Henson inserted sophomore Milton (Roadrunner) Home who, to the marvelous cheers of "Wooooo...beep-beep. Wooooo...beep-beep" from 100 State fans up from Las Cruces to Lawrence, Kans., dribbled rings around the Drake defense and put New Mexico State permanently in command by 10 points. In a complete reversal of his sorry performance against Kansas State, the Aggies' 6'10" Sam Lacey dominated the boards while Collins, Home and little Charley Criss combined for 53 points from the backcourt.
"The only thing that will scare us is a club with three soul brothers eight feet tall," said New Mexico State Assistant Ed Murphy before the regional. However, to meet Jacksonville, which has two brothers seven feet tall, the Aggies will have to get by UCLA—their nemesis the past two years when NMS, trapped in the Western Regional, slowed the ball down and lost. "This year we think our running game will give us a chance to win," says Henson.