While the rest of the nation's basketball teams crisscrossed the country in search of tournaments, most of the South's ballplayers spent the Christmas holiday at home with their families. This meant that some of the nation's top teams were idle. Kentucky had won eight straight including its own invitational tournament before taking the week off. North Carolina had made it five games in a row when it won the Bluegrass tournament before resting up last week.
Highly ranked Auburn did take time out from its holiday to whack little Florence (Ala.) State 104-78, thereby increasing its two-year winning streak to 17. Georgia Tech, not so highly ranked, walloped Wyoming, the fading Skyline Conference defender 110-78 at home for its fourth win in a row and then made the mistake of going west. There St. Louis's great height and Bob Ferry's 33 points soured Tech's Yuletide spirit 90-79.
It was a wonderful week for Big Ten fans in general and Northwestern rooters in particular. The Wildcats warmed up with a 75-69 win over Washington and then took on West Virginia, the nation's No. 1 team last year, in the week's biggest game. With only 24 seconds remaining and West Virginia one point ahead Northwestern's superb scorer Joe Ruklick sank one of two foul shots to force an overtime The two teams were still tied at the end of the first overtime Then Northwestern ran up 19 points to win going away 118-109. Purdue brushed past Butler 78-65 and beat hot and cold Notre Dame 74-59 to win the Hoosier Classic and its seventh straight game.
While Cincinnati rested on its 5-0 record, Bradley upheld the honor of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Braves showed their versatility while beating Dartmouth 50-44 when they junked their famous fast break for a 14-minute freeze in the second half, taking only three shots the whole period. But normalcy returned when Bradley ran all over Gonzaga 90-73 for its seventh win in a row. Tulsa won its fifth straight when Sophomore Dave Voss sank a basket with two seconds to go against New Mexico A&M, but then fell before lightly regarded Duquesne 78-67 in the All-College tournament at Oklahoma City.
With former St. Louis Coach Ed Hickey's newly installed fast break working to perfection, Marquette ripped apart previously unbeaten Xavier of Ohio 86-71 (Hickey's players carried him from the floor on their shoulders) and went on to breeze past neighboring Milwaukee U. 76-60 for its seventh consecutive win and 9-1 over-all. Xavier pulled itself together to lick Oregon in the Oklahoma City tournament but was then crushed by once-beaten Oklahoma City 81-54. In that tournament Bowling Green expected better things after slipping by Wichita only to be upset too by a suddenly red-hot Duquesne 69-65.
Undefeated Tennessee Tech roared jauntily into the Evansville (Ind.) tournament with seven straight wins behind it and just managed to squeeze by St. Mary's 69-67 (see page 34). Then, in the finals, little Evansville, which isn't even considered a major college, turned out to be a poor host and smashed Tech 100-73. Touring Seattle ran away from Marshall 91-80, was stunned by Akron 70-63, then decimated a strong Loyola of Chicago team 70-49.
Kansas State almost slipped against lowly Missouri when All-America Bob Boozer fouled out with six minutes to go. But the Wildcats managed to hang on for a 69-66 win in the opener of the Big Eight Holiday tournament. Kansas, woeful without Wilt lost to hot-shooting Colorado; Nebraska upset tenacious Oklahoma State and Oklahoma slipped past Iowa State as the Big Eight previewed the conference season.
On the eve of Southwest Conference play, TCU and Texas A&M (both 7-1) became the teams to beat. TCU came from behind in the last 90 seconds to ease by Baylor 62-55 in the preseason tournament and then, with 6-foot 10-inch, 240-pound H. E. Kirchner throwing in 27 points, beat SMU 74-64. The Texas Aggies upset Texas Tech 66-58 as Neil Swisher scored 22 points and just managed to edge Rice 60-59 when Ernie Turner flipped in two foul shots with 13 seconds to go.
St. Joseph's, whose only loss has been to Kansas State, looked more and more like the class of the East as it easily beat Syracuse 72-63 in the opening round of the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival. The next night the well-balanced Hawks played only as hard as they needed to against a mammoth Utah team averaging 6 feet 3½ inches, 205 pounds, and pushed their record to 8-1 with a 79-65 win. With sophomore jump shooter Tony Jackson and veteran Al Seiden combining for 91 points, once-defeated St. John's kept pace with St. Joseph's by fast-breaking its way past Holy Cross 77-65, then romping over previously unbeaten Dayton 76-63. Niagara, which also entered the tournament undefeated, lost two games within 24 hours, but could look to Sophomore Al Butler's 58-point total for some solace.
Dartmouth, pride of the Ivy League, wound up a disastrous jaunt through the Midwest with a revitalizing 88-75 win over Brigham Young at the Queen City tournament. The same night once-powerful Seton Hall was humiliated by Canisius 72-45. Princeton, another top Ivy team, also found the Midwest hard to take when Ohio State roughed it up 76-66. Connecticut wisely stayed home and warmed up for another Yankee Conference title with wins over Georgetown and Temple to run its record to 8-1.
College of the Pacific found the East easy pickings as it broke a five-game losing streak with wins over Iona and St. Peter's.
Usually humble Utah State continued to be the surprise of the Skyline Conference as it ran its record to a gaudy 7-1 with two wins over Idaho. Meanwhile, the regular Skyline powers—Utah, Brigham Young and Wyoming—could win only two of the seven games they played. Pacific Coast Conference teams had just about as rough a time of it as they hopped around the country, losing as often as they won. Idaho State, a perennial power unto itself in the Rocky Mountain Conference, zoomed to its ninth win in a row with easy victories over Arizona and Alaska.
LEAPING HIGH for rebound, Northwestern Star Joe Ruklick clears backboard; defeat of West Virginia was major upset.