Wilton Chamberlain, a tall, curiously withdrawn 19-year-old Negro, is very close now as a sophomore to being the best college basketball player in the United States. Oddly enough, he has some glaring faults—he cannot defend adequately against a hook shot for one thing and he has an effective range of only about eight feet from the basket on offense. He may, once in a while, hit some whirling jump shots from farther out than that, but he does not do it consistently, and no team that plays Kansas ever worries about Chamberlain when he is that far away from the target.
Yet Kansas won the Western Regional NCAA basketball championship in Dallas entirely on Chamberlain's ability to intimidate an opponent. The tournament was won in the first game against a Southern Methodist team armed with everything which a basketball team needs and armed particularly for this tournament with three years of tournament play which should have made it immune to pressure jitters.
Doc Hayes, the bald, gentle man who coaches SMU, devised an intelligent attack against the Kansas zone defense, and, more important, he gave his team a two-three zone defense which allowed it to detach strength from the Kansas weaknesses and detail it to guarding Chamberlain. On offense, early, he sent Jim Krebs, the very fine SMU center, out into the corner of the court for long, one-hand set shots, and Krebs, who all of this season has been extraordinarily accurate from that terrain, missed. The strategy was to draw the 7-foot Chamberlain out of his station under the basket to harry Krebs, and it might have worked had Krebs hit. But, conscious always of the threat of a blocked shot, and shooting with only half an eye on the basket, Krebs missed time and again and Chamberlain, climbing effortlessly high above the ruck under the backboard, took away the rebounds and passed the ball out quickly, and Kansas moved away to a 15-4 lead.
The SMU defense, in this taut, exciting opening phase of the game, suffered even more than the attack from a Chamberlain complex. The two-three zone, which stretched a three-man picket fence under the basket, was designed to prevent 1) a pass to Chamberlain in the narrow area in which he is a deadly shot and 2) to block Chamberlain off the backboard so that SMU might have a chance at the rebound. Krebs had the major responsibility for Chamberlain in this zone and he handled it well, moving with his deliberate grace to maintain defensive position between Chamberlain and the basket. He was helped by another player sagging back on Chamberlain from the fringes of the defense.
Unfortunately, the SMU players, sandwiching Chamberlain tightly, left an alley open. Gene Elstun slipped through it twice for goals, and Ronnie Loneski, a talented sophomore, sifted through for three more, and suddenly the Kansas Jayhawks were a long way out in front.
Southern Methodist adjusted then, giving Krebs nearly the whole responsibility for Chamberlain and closing the alley they had left open before. Krebs, fighting hard for rebounds and guarding Chamberlain closely, fouled him three times, but SMU gradually closed the wide gap.
On attack Krebs moved in from the corner and lifted hooks over Chamberlain effectively, feinting with his head and shoulders one way, taking a long step away in the other direction and lofting the shot high over Chamberlain's 12�-foot reach. The score was 33-32 for Kansas at the half, and you had the feeling that Southern Methodist, working intelligently and calmly now and doing very well the things they had found they could do against Kansas, could win.
Indeed, as the second half opened, Kansas was the team which began to show signs of losing its composure. SMU took advantage of some bad passes to work into the lead. For 15 minutes SMU was the team in control of the game—in control by only the narrowest of margins, but still forcing the pace and making Kansas play off tempo. Then, with five minutes and eight seconds to play and SMU ahead by three points, Krebs fouled Chamberlain for the fifth time and left the game. SMU tried desperately to hoard its three-point lead by controlling the ball, but Kansas tied the game as the period ended and coasted through the five-minute overtime for an easy 73-65 victory.
SMU's early-game preoccupation with Chamberlain was responsible for the loss, obviously. Through the first half the team hit only 32% of its shots from the floor and not because of any tremendous pressure applied by the Kansas defense.
"I had all the good shots I needed to get my points but I just couldn't hit anything," Krebs said. "I must have shot a million times and it just wouldn't go in, would it? Chamberlain is a wonderful offensive player, but I could get all the shots I wanted off him."