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Carolina moved on to the Final Four at 30-0. Unfortunately, if the Tar Heels got past Michigan State in the semis, their opponent in the championship game would surely be Kansas and Chamberlain, and they would have to face them in the Jayhawks' home territory, in Kansas City, Mo.
POINT OF FACT: CAROLINA HAD NO BUSINESS BEATING Michigan State. It took three overtimes. Rosenbluth went for 29, but he forced his shots, often firing attempts that Jumpin' Johnny Green slapped away. Kearns played his worst game of the season, and Quigg got only one shot before he fouled out.
So Cunningham, realizing he had to shoot, scored 21, his career high, and he and Brennan saved the streak.
Then they watched for a while as Chamberlain annihilated San Francisco. Far from being intimidated, though, they came away calm in the knowledge of how they had to play him. "San Francisco let him get away with too much," Brennan says. "I don't care how awesome he was. We had to be physical with him." The next day, in the lobby of their hotel, the Continental, Kearns hung out, loving it, advising whatever skeptics would listen, "We're chilly. We're cool. Chamberlain won't give us any jitters." At some point, too (all accounts differ), McGuire told Kearns that if he was so cocky, he should go out and jump against Chamberlain at the start of the game. Kearns said sure.
The arena was thronged, almost all Kansas. But even this failed to undo the Tar Heels, who had played only eight home games all season. And they did have the governor, Luther Hodges, with them. He flew out after the Michigan State victory, possibly because the games were being specially televised back home, and the state was on its ear. Before this weekend ACC basketball was popular as a sport; after this, it was woven into the fabric of North Carolina society. Governor Hodges looked around and then plunked himself down in the most visible place he could find, between McGuire and his team, on the bench.
The coach apologized and invited the governor to take a seat at the other end, and then, as the fans blinked and snickered, here came Kearns, 5' 10" and change, elbowing his way into the center circle opposite Chamberlain. The big man glared down. Kearns played it for all it was worth, tensing, getting way down as if he could spring 20 feet into the air.
So began the most exciting game in NCAA tournament history.
Carolina immediately assumed control. The Tar Heels collapsed two or three men on Wilt and dared the other Jayhawks to stick the ball in from outside. Kansas played a box-and-one, with Maurice King shadowing Rosenbluth. It was a disastrous strategy; it didn't contain Rosenbluth, and it left the other Tar Heels free to shoot over the zone. Of the first seven shots they threw up, Brennan hit one, Rosenbluth, Kearns and Quigg two apiece. Twenty-five years later Wilt still has the vision of the Carolina center, Quigg, staying way out, chewing gum, throwing up the jumper. It was 17-7 before the Jayhawks went to man-to-man and still 29-22 at the half.
Wilt led Kansas back, and before the second half was nine minutes gone, the Jayhawks were in front 36-35. Quigg and Rosenbluth were each to pick up his fourth foul along in here too, but even when the unstoppable Chamberlain, then a fine free throw shooter, made both shots of a one-and-one to put Kansas up by three, coach Dick Harp kept the Jayhawks in a deliberate offense.
It almost worked, too. With 1:45 left, Chamberlain, moving up high, whipped a beautiful pass down into Gene Elstun, who not only made the shot but also drew Rosenbluth's fifth foul. As Elstun stood at the line, it was 44-41, and Chamberlain distinctly recalls glancing up into the stands at this moment, spotting a good friend and sighing at him, at last sure of victory.