The whole college basketball season was wrapped up into a couple of brilliant and exciting hours in Louisville and New York, and suddenly California and St. John's, a continent apart in space but only a smidgen apart in desire and skill, were perched happily and firmly above the crowd. California, given little chance to go all the way, despite a defense which caused opposing coaches furiously to cudgel their brains, had won the NCAA championship in Louisville, and St. John's, a team which rose to its greatest heights early in the year and then wallowed in the depths, had won the NIT title in New York.
Many a coach has mouthed the saw that a good defense is the best offense, but California's Pete Newell triumphed with it at Louisville (see page 16). His well-disciplined Bears, hounding, clinging and never more than a breath's length from their opponents, snared Cincinnati in their switches. Meanwhile, Cal attacked deliberately and cautiously from its slowed-down offense, turning loose Al Buch for 18 points, while Darrall Imhoff, a baby-faced 6-foot 10-inch stringbean, picked the boards clean, and whipped favored Cincinnati 64-58 in the semifinals.
But the Bears were only halfway home. They still had to beat West Virginia's freewheeling Mountaineers, who caught plucky Louisville with its emotional tanks drained dry after rousing upsets of Kentucky and Michigan State in the regionals, and ran the home-town Cardinals into the boards 94-79 in the other half of the draw. Jerry West—a splendid player with the eye of a marksman and the agile hands of a pickpocket, who had scorched Louisville for 38 points and later was voted the most valuable player—was the major problem this time.
Louisville's puckish Coach Peck Hickman had facetiously given his formula for defending against West: "My boys pick somebody they think they can lick and then tie into him. The poor guy who gets to pick fifth gets stuck with West." But Newell's plan was hardly so radical. Although his man-to-man defenders couldn't stop West, who fed off magnificently and scored 28 points, they did slow down the rapid-gaited Mountaineers to a relative walk and finally won it all 71-70 when Imhoff followed up his own misdirected hook shot and tipped in the rebound with 15 seconds to play.
Relaxed Cincinnati came back to put down Louisville 98-85 for third place, as Oscar Robertson scored 39 points to lead the nation's major college scorers with a 32.6 average (see below) and set an all-time two-season record of 1,962 points.
There were times during the season when Joe Lapchick, the affable and crafty old pro who coaches St. John's, publicly wondered whether some of his boys were playing for themselves or for the team. But his puzzlement ceased once the NIT got under way in New York's Madison Square Garden.
The Redmen began by beating Villanova 75-67, then came up against hustling Providence, which had shocked bigger St. Louis 75-72 in double overtime in the quarter-finals. But, by this time, the fired-up Friars were all tuckered out and no match for a St. John's team that worked together. Little (5 feet 11 inches) sharpshooter Alan Seiden, held tight by Providence's combination zone and man-to-man, turned feeder for jumping jack Tony Jackson (20 points) and bulky Lou Roethel (22 points) and skillfully brought the Johnnies home 76-55 and into the final against Bradley.
The Peoria Braves got there by outlasting NYU 59-57 after the New Yorkers outslicked Oklahoma City 63-48. Well-balanced Bradley had NYU on the run early, but was forced to resort to some last-minute strategy to hold off the challenging Violets. With 38 seconds to go, Coach Chuck Orsborn switched to a zone and confounded NYU just long enough to win.
All of which set the stage for an overtime cliffhanger that had the 14,376 fans in the Garden whooping it up and roaring as in the days of old (pre-1951). St. John's fell behind as Bradley's 1-3-1 zone clogged the middle and its clever screens set up shots for icy-cool Bobby Joe Mason, big Joe Billy McDade and Gene Morse. But St. John's never stopped trying. Seiden (see page 5), despite four fouls and offensive trickery by Bradley's Mike Owens, who took him into the pivot in an unsuccessful attempt to force a fifth foul, and Jackson began to hit with jumpers while the springy Jackson also covered the defensive board as if he owned it. The Redmen finally overtook the Braves with less than four minutes to play, and the score was tied 63-63 when the game ended. Seiden, burly Gus Alfieri and Jackson, whose 21 points and 27 rebounds helped earn him the most valuable player award, dominated the scoring in overtime and St. John's finished on top 76-71 for its third NIT title. Weepy but happy, Lapchick had the last word: "They had a dozen chances to quit...but every time they had the guts and the answer to each situation. They just wouldn't quit."
Providence had one more shot at glory, but couldn't cope with NYU's board strength and finesse and lost 71-57 in the consolation game.
Alex Hannum, who coached the St. Louis Hawks to the NBA title a year ago and then resigned for a more relaxing life among the amateurs, was once again counting his blessings after his fast-breaking Wichita team barely squeaked past the U.S. Army All-Stars 104-102 in the semifinals, but recovered its poise to clobber Bartlesville (Okla.) 105-83 for the AAU championship at Denver. And the St. Louis influence had lingered, for it was Dick Boushka, an ex-St. Louis U. star, who beefed up the Vickers with 26 points and was named the tournament's MVP.
THE JUNIOR COLLEGES
Weber of Ogden, Utah, beaten in the National Junior College final last year, didn't miss this time, downing Bethany Lutheran of Mankato, Minn. 57-47 at Hutchinson, Kans. to carry home the title.
Al Cervi, pepper-pot coach of the last-place Philadelphia Warriors, decided that the "insecurity of coaching" was not for him and resigned to devote full time to his job with a Rochester trucking concern. And there were at least four NBA coaches who might be persuaded to agree with him as the playoffs moved into the penultimate round.
In the East, Boston and Syracuse traded home-court victories in their best-of-seven series. The Celtics romped over Syracuse 131-109, lost to the Nats 120-118 and then won again 133-111. In the West, St. Louis got a real hot performance from Cliff Hagan (40 points) to whomp Minneapolis 124-90, but lost Playmaker Slater Martin, who suffered a dislocation of the upper part of the fibula in his right leg. Without Martin, the Hawks bowed to the Lakers 106-98.
CAUGHT FLAT-FOOTED, Bradley's McDade (left) watches St. John's Seiden go up for shot in NIT final won by Redmen 76-71.