Florida State, which had lost only four games all season, came into Cincinnati ranked No. 11 in both wire-service polls and the tournament's No. 1 seed. The Seminoles featured muscular 6'7" Forward Harry Davis and several other good big men, plus three talented guards: Eugene Harris, the outside shooter; Tony Jackson, the league leader in assists and steals; and the "sixth starter," Mickey Dillard, the penetrator.
The team was put together by 12th-year Coach Hugh Durham, Louisville born and reared, who was a star guard for Florida State from 1956 to 1959. Durham was the Florida open racquet-ball champion in 1973, but he no doubt reached the height of his sports career in 1972 when his Seminoles made the NCAA final, where they lost to UCLA.
Durham tried not to miss a bet in Cincinnati. His mother, Mrs. Mary Shaffer of Louisville, had seen only two Florida State games this season, both of which FSU lost. Although she was in Cincy, she and Hugh jointly decided that she would skip the games. "A combination of superstitions," said Durham.
Louisville didn't have a bye, but it had the equivalent: an opener against Tulane. The Cardinals won 93-64 and, as usual, Guard Rick Wilson and his backcourt partner, Darrell (Dr. Dunk) Griffith, were impressive. Not so much fun was game No. 2 against Memphis State, which had disposed of St. Louis in the first round. Louisville beat Memphis 67-62, aided considerably by the bad shots taken at the end by Memphis Guard Alvin Wright. Afterward, Louisville Coach Denny Crum verbally attacked Referee Ray Sonnenberg of Belleville, Ill.
"There was one guy out there in a striped shirt who was definitely prejudiced against Louisville," raged Crum, who went on to say that it was the second-worst officiating job he had ever seen and that Sonnenberg would "never work another Louisville game, I'll guarantee you that." He didn't specify what the worst-officiated game had been, or what had happened to that villain.
In seven seasons at Louisville the 41-year-old Crum, a former player and assistant coach under John Wooden at UCLA, has proved himself one of the best coaches in the nation. He has the second-best record, 161-43, of any active major-college coach, trailing only Nevada-Las Vegas' Jerry Tarkanian. One of the reasons he has won almost 80% of his games is that he recruits top players, and they were needed against Memphis State. Wilson and Griffith, both Louisville products, combined for 34 points, and a third hometowner, 6'4" Bobby Turner, played his usual good game in the frontcourt despite resplitting his forehead and requiring 12 stitches, bringing the total to 47, or more than Frankenstein's monster.
The championship game was televised to the league's network of nearly 30 stations, with Cincinnati alumnus Oscar Robertson doing the color, and it had to be one of the best shows on the tube this winter. The girls at Lucy's couldn't have matched the moves, and the shooting was of the long-range guided-missile variety.
This will give some idea of how talented the athletes on the two teams are: Florida State's Kris Anderson, a 6'8" bean pole, hit nine of 12 shots, most of them from 15 feet or more. Louisville's Turner, despite the bandages, connected on seven of 10. Harris, the six-foot Florida State outside shooter, fought and scratched and leaped for nine rebounds.
Paced by Wilson (who shot eight for eight in the first half, 12 for 15 in the game), Louisville led from the opening moments until Harris' two free throws with 1:25 left made it 91-90 Florida State. Ricky Gallon sank two free throws to enable the Cardinals to regain the lead, but the Seminoles' Tony Jackson took it back by making two free throws with nine seconds to go.
By this time Griffith and Wilson had fouled out, and Crum had to insert Burk-man, a 6'5" freshman guard who had shot only 31% from the field this season. Louisville's in-bounds pass was supposed to go to Tony Branch, a fine ball handler, but he was covered. It went instead to Burkman, who, looking as if he had practiced all his life for just such a moment, dribbled all the way down the court, once going behind his back, and shot a 15-foot fall-away jumper from the left baseline. Swish! It was 94-93 for Louisville with two seconds left.