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The magnitude of the UCLA-North Carolina State rematch did not go undetected by Marquette's McGuire or Ted Owens of Kansas, the antagonists in the other semifinal. At a small party on Friday evening attended by all the competing coaches except Sloan, who was off somewhere undoubtedly selecting his wardrobe, McGuire said he was just glad to play in the "B class division" while Owens expressed pleasure at coaching in the "preliminary."
Their game, sadly, lived down to these expectations. Though any contest featuring Marquette's annual cast of street fighters against a midlands crew with a Cook, a Knight and a guy named Morningstar who insists he is not an Indian, could not lack for color, the Warriors' 64-51 victory produced few dramatics.
Kansas struggled to a one-point lead at the half, but after McGuire chewed out his troops (the coach and little Lloyd Walton had a shouting match in the locker room), after Washington bombed over the enemy zone and after Maurice Lucas took the boards, and with them the game, into his own hands, the Jayhawks fell apart and succumbed to Marquette's sticks-'n'-stones defense. As Ellis was shutting off KU's Norman Cook, Earl Tatum took care of Roger Morningstar, and only reserve Rick Suttle played up to par for Kansas.
The second semifinal, by contrast, was even better than it looked, which is to say it was a game for the ages. Not only did it bring together teams No. 1 and 2 in the land, but its main matchups included four of the finest players in the sport—Burleson vs. Walton, Thompson vs. Keith Wilkes—and there was no hiding the bad blood that remained from their first meeting back in the snows of St. Louis when UCLA blew out N.C. State 84-66.
"A real whippin'," the Bruins' Tommy Curtis called that one, and Wooden kept adding psychological fuel. "I want State to dwell on that 18-point margin," he said.
Sloan, meanwhile, kept his verbal distance. In between sneaking sidelong glances at the patchwork head of Thompson, he expressed skepticism at the "un-Woodenlike" remarks. State Forward Tim Stoddard was more to the point. "We know they aren't 18 points better than us," he said, "but what's more important is that they know it."
On the day the Californians arrived in Greensboro, Walton stepped off the plane with sandals on his feet and a bag of fruit in his hand. As UCLA practiced behind closed doors, the Wolfpack worked out 80 miles away on its home court in Raleigh before a crowd of 6,000. Different strokes for different folks.
Though the Bruins went into their normal weekend isolation act—among other things, UCLA is the Howard Hughes of college sport—Andre McCarter did emerge at one point to discuss the possibility of UCLA's losing. "I won't believe it," he said. "It just doesn't fit into history."
Well, it took another giant to knock off the giant, it took David to beat Goliath, and, finally, it took a dwarf to topple the dynasty, but it happened. Long ago Sloan had told his men they could be one of the great teams of all time, but it is inconceivable that even Burleson, Thompson and the lovable lightning bug, Towe, believed him before Saturday. Before the Wolfpack came back from 11 points behind in the second half, not once but twice, and from seven points behind in the second overtime. Before this threesome combined for 25 baskets and State's final 24 points of the game. Before the raging Burleson battled the magnificent Walton on even terms. Before Thompson showed off his skydiving routine again and again as the crises mounted and—finally—before Towe went to the line with 12 seconds left in the game to make the two clinching free throws.
Then it was done. After 50 minutes of thrills, spills, moon shots, mistakes, courageous comebacks, bungled leads, concentrated fury and one of the most beautiful contests ever played, North Carolina State had beaten the seven-year national champions 80-77. The Wolfpack knew how good it was. And so did UCLA.