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The eliminations were over and the time for decision approached as the NCAA traveling tournament headed for San Francisco (see page 39). Defending champion California, Cincinnati and Ohio State, the nation's top three teams, as expected, successfully negotiated early tests to reach the semifinals, but with them came a surprise—NYU, a team that has looked both good and terrible in regular season play.
Last weekend NYU looked good. Coach Lou Rossini's resourceful Violets breezed into Charlotte after an easy 78-59 victory over Connecticut in New York, promptly upset West Virginia (a 94-86 winner over Navy) 82-81 in overtime. Drubbed by the Mountaineers 98-69 at Morgan-town only five weeks earlier, NYU cautiously practiced "possession and patience," made it pay off despite 34 points by West Virginia's versatile Jerry West. Tom Sanders, who scored 28 points, shared the boards with teammate Al Filardi, but it was gnomish Russ Cunningham who lifted the Violets into a game-ending deadlock with a 30-foot set shot, clinched the outcome with a clutch free throw in the closing seconds of the overtime. Next came Duke, which had beaten Princeton 84-60, St. Joseph's 58-56. NYU deliberately shot the Blue Devils' carefully conceived 1-3-1 zone full of holes, poured in 74 points to Duke's 59 to win the Eastern Regional final.
For a few delicious moments Western Kentucky, which had beaten Miami 107-84, and Georgia Tech, an edgy 57-54 winner over Ohio U., enjoyed heady national prominence. But nobody was fooled, least of all Ohio State, led by All-America Sophomore Jerry Lucas. The tall, talented and free-running Buckeyes, trailing Western Kentucky 43-37 at half time, caught the fading Hilltoppers 98-79, went on to solve Georgia Tech's variable defenses for an 86-69 win in the Mideast Regional at Louisville.
California, its defenses at their frustrating best, methodically stifled their opponents in the Western Regionals at Seattle. The Bears sat on Idaho State 71-44, Santa Clara 69-49, smothered Oregon, which had caused a brief flutter of excitement by upsetting Utah 65-54 in an encompassing defensive hug. The final score: California 70, Oregon 49.
Cincinnati, anxious for another shot at Cal, got its usual pickup from magnificent Oscar Robertson, beat DePaul 99-59, Kansas 82-71 in the Midwest Regionals at Manhattan, Kans. The weary Jayhawks, who earned their way into the tournament by outlasting Kansas State 84-82 in a playoff, first turned back Texas 90-81, gave the Bearcats a tussle for a while, but succumbed inevitably to Robertson, who pushed in 43 points.
The NIT, too, was bruising its way toward a weekend climax in New York's Madison Square Garden. While top-seeded Bradley and defending champion St. John's looked on, second-seeded Utah State and unseeded Providence moved convincingly into the semifinals, sat back to catch their breath before meeting each other Thursday night.
Villanova held on just long enough to outlast Detroit 88-86 in the first round but found its slips showing against Utah State, made one mistake too many, lost 73-72 in another cliff hanger. The Wildcats' jump-shooting Sophomore Hubie White sent the game into overtime at 67 all, but the ever-hustling Aggies refused to panic, even when star rebounder Cornell Green (brother of Boston Red Sox's Pumpsie) fouled out. Max Perry, a poker-faced 5-foot 7-inch playmaking wizard, held Utah State together, calmly dropped in two foul shots with seven seconds to go.
Providence, driven on by a vocal band of rooters who had the Garden jumping, slicked its way into the semifinals by fighting off Memphis State 71-70 and upsetting third-seeded St. Louis 64-53. Against rugged Memphis State, smooth, ball-hawking Len Wilkens supplied the firepower, came up with 28 points. Two nights later the busy Friars' hustling zone proved the difference as St. Louis's ponderous 270-pound Bob Nordmann was stalled under the basket. The Providence stars: 6-foot 10-inch Jimmy Hadnot, who took over the boards, and magic-handed John Egan, who dazzled the bewildered Billikens with his deft passing, surging drives and flicking jump shots.