Although many of the nation's college basketball players deserted the boards for the books and midyear exams, there were some who managed to keep the round ball bouncing. Auburn stretched its all-winning streak to 24 and Michigan State rose to the top of the Big Ten, but St. Bonaventure was among the less fortunate and found itself bumped from the unbeaten ranks.
While the Ivies contented themselves with a couple of nonleague skirmishes (Dartmouth beat Springfield 70-68, and Cornell lost to Creighton 64-63), St. John's continued to enjoy its return to prominence in the East. The Redmen were never sharper than when they ran over St. Francis of Brooklyn 91-44, and the sharpest of all was Guard Gus Alfieri, a brawny, hard-driving 210-pounder who claims, "I only shoot when the other club gives me too much room." Alfieri found all the room he needed, took 10 shots from the field and made them all and added three for three from the foul line for the kind of night most players dream about but only a rare few achieve.
St. Francis of Loretto, Pa. caught St. Bonaventure away from home and used its rebounding skill to send the Bonnies skidding to their first defeat 92-81 after nine straight victories. Villanova beat Drexel 62-46, found Providence Sophomore John Egan, who scored 39 points, more than it could handle and finally bowed to the Friars 90-83 after four frantic overtime periods.
Kentucky sat out the week in the classrooms, but Auburn put its shuffling offense to the test twice and padded the nation's longest major-college winning streak with victories over Georgia Tech 65-55 and Georgia 81-61. SEC-hopeful Mississippi State, beaten only by Auburn, ventured out once and had little trouble downing Murray State 63-48 as Bailey Howell scored 35 points.
The ACC was idle, but VMI put another damper on Virginia Tech's Southern Conference hopes, upsetting the young challengers 81-78, while West Virginia barely edged Western Kentucky 74-72 in a nonleague game. Eastern Kentucky, Ohio Valley cellar-dweller last year, beat Tennessee Tech 81-75 and More-head State 86-67 to move into first place. Tennessee A&I, with 28 straight, and Belmont Abbey, with 12 in a row, were also clamoring for attention.
Illinois's Harry Combes, only Big Ten coach to resist the zone this season, came out four-square against this most aggravating of all defenses, but was candid enough to admit, "If I thought I could win by using it, I would."
Michigan State's Forddy Anderson couldn't care less; his Spartans picked apart Ohio State and Minnesota zones and rumbled to the top of the Big Ten Forddy's solution: he merely had Bob Anderegg shoot holes in the zone from outside while hustling Johnny Green cleaned up inside. The result: State beat Ohio State 92-77 and Minnesota 82-76. But Anderson, aware of Northwestern's 99-96 overtime win over Iowa and the challenge of Illinois and Michigan, was a realist: "We're ahead now, but this race is just getting started."
Cincinnati, fast-breaking almost out of range of the national TV cameras, got 38 points from Oscar Robertson and ran Xavier into the boards 92-66; Colorado rallied to overhaul Iowa State 73-64 and tie Kansas and Nebraska for second in the Big Eight; Kent State's Mid-American bubble burst with losses to Bowling Green 68-59 and Marshall 84-83, and the Flashes gave way to Miami of Ohio, an easy 91-77 winner over Western Michigan; little Steubenville clobbered Marietta 105-68 for its 36th straight.
Making up for its lack of height (an average 6 foot 1) with a slashing fast break and deft shooting, Oklahoma City ran rings around TCU's big men and hounded them into a 75-65 defeat. Meanwhile, Baylor continued on the rise in the SWC, raking over last-place Texas 62-51 and prompting unhappy Longhorn Coach Marshall Hughes to announce his resignation, effective at the end of the season.
Explosive Utah, which has shattered the theory that a team without at least one shining star cannot be a winner, continued to make a shambles of the Skyline race. For the fourth time in a row, the hefty Utes got involved in a tight game for a half, then came back with a basket-peppering exhibition; this time they left contender Brigham Young gasping and a 70-56 loser.
Rocky Mountain rivals, hard-pressed to stop six-time champion Idaho State, took heart when five Bengals, including leading scorer John Bethke, found themselves unable to defense a course called Education 77 and were promptly declared ineligible.
Boston's Red Auerbach, who had glibly predicted, "The East will win because we have more pride," found himself ruefully munching on his own words after the West outran, outshot and outre-bounded his "proud" Easterners 124-108 in the annual NBA All-Star game at Detroit. The abundant talents of St. Louis' Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan proved to be too much for Boston's Bill Russell, who found himself boxed, battered and bumped beneath the boards (see above), while Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis' splendid rookie, tore the East defense apart with his two-handed jump shots, slippery body movements and general all-round magnificence. Not even the sleight-of-hand magic of Boston's Bob Cousy could curb the hot-handed Westerners and, when it was all done with, Pettit (25 points) and Baylor (24 points) were voted co-winners of the game's most-valuable-player award.
ARMLOCK by West's Twyman grounds Bill Russell as Bob Pettit drives for layup in pro All-Star game, won by West 124-108.
THE NATION'S BEST
1. St. John's (12-1)
2. Villanova (12-2)
3. St. Bonaventure (9-1)
1. North Carolina (10-1)
2. Kentucky (14-1)
3. Auburn (13-0)
1. Kansas State (13-1)
2. Cincinnati (11-2)
3. Michigan State (10-2)
1. Oklahoma City (12-2)
2. TCU (11-4)
3. Texas A&M (12-3)
1. California (10-4)
2. St. Mary's (10-4)
3. Utah (12-4)