For weeks Oregon State had been quietly knocking over all comers. Even Coach Slats Gill, an old hand at the basketball business (34 years), was ready to admit that this was his best team ever. Last Friday at Eugene, the eager Beavers showed how good they really are. While 7-foot sophomore Mel Counts and 6-foot-7 Jay Carty swept the boards, State shocked Oregon with a fast break, Carty flipped two-hand jumpers over the Webfoots for 25 points, and the Beavers won 79-63. Next night at Corvallis, it was Counts's turn to devastate Oregon. After a desultory first half, he roamed the pivot for 26 points as Oregon State won again, 82-66, for its 15th straight.
Only one thing was certain in the Big Five: It would take more than a big reputation to catch front-running UCLA. Coach Johnny Wooden knew that he had to stop USC's Big John Rudometkin to win. His Bruins did. Fred Slaughter, a tenacious 6-foot-5 sophomore, harassed Rudometkin in the pivot and broke down USC's planned attack, and Playmaker Walt Hazzard moved the Bruins in and out of fast breaks and screening patterns. Meanwhile, pop-shooter Johnny Green hit his first six shots, went on to score 28 points, and UCLA upset the Trojans 73-59.
Perhaps the Skyline Conference won't be embarrassed after all by having a second-place team represent it in the NCAA tournament. Colorado State U., slumping badly for weeks, suddenly came alive against tournament-banned Utah. The Rams didn't quite handcuff Billy McGill, who broke away from his tormentors for 30 points, but they did surprise the Utes, 74-59, to take over first place. Now the battle was between CSU and Utah State, which had its troubles before ailing Cornell Green came off the bench to lead it to an 83-79 overtime win over Denver. The top three:
1. OREGON STATE (16-1)
2. USC (12-4)
3. UTAH (16-3)
Kentucky's volatile Adolph Rupp had the SEC eating out of his hand. Georgia Tech and Florida tried to hem in Cotton Nash, Larry Pursiful and Rupp's other fine players with a zone, but it was like trying to snare wildcats with a mousetrap. They drove through it and shot over it, and Kentucky won 71-62 and 81-69. In between, Georgia succumbed 86-59. Mississippi State and Tulane were still in contention, and Auburn was not far off, but it would take a super effort to beat the Wildcats.
With North Carolina coming up, Duke Coach Vic Bubas had a problem. Art Hey-man, his top scorer and driver, had a sprained ankle. But the Tar Heels unwittingly helped him solve it by shifting from a box-and-one to a man-to-man. Bubas simply used Heyman as a decoy and put Jeff Mullins in the driving position. Mullins scored 24 points, and Duke beat North Carolina 79-57 to hold its lead over Wake Forest (which beat South Carolina 78-74 and Clemson 83-82) in the ACC.
Virginia Tech lured Southern Conference leader West Virginia to Blacksburg for the first time in seven years and then, while a screaming crowd of 10,000 made enough noise to raise the roof of Tech's new gym, upset the Mountaineers 85-82. Davidson, streaking merrily after losing its first six games, whomped Georgia Southern 84-64, Erskine 71-57 and William & Mary 61-54 for its 11th straight. The top three:
1. KENTUCKY (16-1)
2. DUKE (14-2)
3. MISSISSIPPI STATE (16-1)
Big Ten teams were finding out that there is just no way to stop all the Buckeyes of Ohio State. Purdue tried it by collapsing three men on Jerry Lucas and they held him to 13 points. But Mel Nowell flipped in 29 from long range, Doug McDonald added 19 from close up, and OSU won 94-73. Northwestern had no tricks and fell to OSU 97-61. Now the only team with a chance to catch the Buckeyes is Wisconsin. The surprising Badgers outhustled Illinois 85-81 and Minnseota 94-88, but they won't get to play OSU until March 3.
Missouri Valley leader Bradley got Chet Walker back, just in time. St. Louis jammed the middle against the Braves and they needed every one of Walker's 23 points to hold off the Bills 72-67. Meanwhile, Cincinnati beat North Texas State 77-50.
The Big Eight settled down to a struggle between Colorado and Kansas State. The Buffs beat Oklahoma State 54-39; K-State romped against Nebraska 72-53. But Bowling Green had the Mid-American race all to itself. The Falcons bombed Miami (Ohio) 94-61 and raised their record to 15-1. The top three:
1. OHIO STATE (16-0)
2. CINCINNATI (17-2)
3. BRADLEY (14-3)
Some semblance of order was beginning to emerge in the usually confused SWC. Texas Tech won twice on the road and stood alone in first place. The Raiders threw a pressing zone at fading SMU and brought down the Mustangs 69-63 at Dallas, then used a late stall to outlast Arkansas 66-64 in Fayetteville. But Texas A&M, despite a nonleague loss to Houston (73-69), was still very much in the race. The Aggies were tied for second with Rice after a 79-72 win over TCU.
Houston gave Cincinnati a battle before losing to the talented Bearcats 60-52. Arizona State beat Texas Western 68-62 to just about clinch the Border title. The top three:
1. TEXAS TECH (11-4)
2. ARIZONA STATE (15-3)
3. HOUSTON (15-4)
The big game was in Pittsburgh, where Duquesne and Villanova traded punches and baskets. The aggressive Dukes, who usually play man-to-man, unexpectedly tied up the Cats with a tight zone and only Hubie White was able to break through. He scored 21 points, but it wasn't enough. Rambunctious Mike Rice bulled his way for 21, little Willie Somerset added 12 more and Duquesne squeezed out a 53-51 win. At week's end, Duquesne was still winning. The Dukes whipped St. Francis (N.Y.) 99-43, but Detroit's Dave DeBusschere scored 29 points and Villanova lost in overtime 93-89.
Other eastern independents concentrated on improving their tournament chances. St. John's, back in the East after beating Notre Dame 78-72 in double overtime, defeated Army 57-51. Providence shook off Niagara 77-67, then outscrambled St. Bonaventure 71-60 for its seventh straight. NYU came back from a month layoff to beat Mt. St. Mary's 77-59. Navy trimmed Colgate 113-61 and Maryland 67-58. However, Holy Cross ran into trouble. The Crusaders beat Dartmouth easily enough, 92-61, but Boston College was tougher. Although Jack Foley gunned in 34 points, the Eagles won 82-77. Seton Hall also discovered that you need more than a big scorer to win. Nick Werkman piled up 40 points against St. Bonaventure and 29 against Niagara but his team lost both games, 113-100 and 103-81.
Yale and Cornell were still tied for the Ivy League lead after Penn upset the Elis 71-49 and Dartmouth surprised the Big Red 60-58. The top three:
1. DUQUESNE (16-2)
2. ST. JOHN'S (13-4)
3. VILLANOVA (15-4)
MEL COUNTS, 7-foot Oregon State center whose rebounding has put the Beavers among the nation's top teams, performs his specialty despite wall of Oregon players in game at Eugene.