Why must Russian woman basketball player look like Tugboat Anna Karenina?" some commissar probably said, thereby starting another revolution leading directly to the appearance last week in Madison Square Garden of the fresh-faced charmer on the opposite page. Nina Eremina (26) and her bouncy, high-spirited Soviet teammates not only proved that they understood this American game very well indeed (they beat our girls 42-40), they also demonstrated that they were the chief visual attraction of a U.S. tour by Russian men's and women's teams that took them this week to Peoria and Cleveland and will take them to Lawrence, Kans., Denver and Seattle.
The Russian girls beat our AAU champions from Wayland, Texas mainly because they were much more aggressive. They disdained the outside shot, drove relentlessly for the basket and defended their own goal ferociously. Our girls, evidently a bit startled by this unladylike behavior of strangers who looked so sweet and pleasant, stood around rather helplessly on offense and failed to take advantage of their superior ball-handling skill.
Fortunately, our men were better prepared. Last January we had light-heartedly dispatched a very ordinary collection of players to the World Championships in Chile, and were shocked when the Russians beat them easily. In New York, as they will elsewhere on this tour, the Russians met a more representative American group, though still hardly our best. We were clearly superior in every department except, possibly, conditioning. The Russians ran throughout the game without visible distress, but this display of stamina availed little in the face of our better shooting and general floor play. The U.S. won 70-59. Two fine American guards, Billy Evans and Gary Thompson, harried the Russian playmakers endlessly and forced them into numerous errors. The visitors had no defense against the hook shooting of our Burdie Haldorson, and they refused to switch defensive assignments when our attack would penetrate the area close to their basket.
Russian basketball has been improving steadily, the result, obviously, of careful study of American team tactics. But although this is a team game, requiring a high degree of player cooperation, success still depends on individual, free-lancing initiative. And it is in this area, which perhaps invites comparisons in fields other than sport, that we maintain a considerable edge.
GIANT RED Yan Kruminsh, who stands 7 feet 3 inches, dwarfs U.S. player Bob Boozer, a mere 6 feet 8 (left). But Americans handled the slow Kruminsh easily. Above, popular Russian girls satisfy autograph hunters.