Saturday night was destined to be a great one for Kansas University's basketball team -- a time of celebration as the Jayhawkers walked out of Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium with the Big Seven tournament championship trophy.
But one unfortunate incident, misunderstood by most of the capacity crowd of 10,500 howling fans, took most of the glory out of the night for which the Kansans had planned and worked so hard.
It appeared that Kansas All-American Clyde Lovellette had deliberately stepped on Missouri Freshman Star Win Wilfong. Actually the ponderous Jayhawk center had unintentionally stepped only lightly on the Tiger who was then lying on the floor after a scramble for the ball.
However, to the crowd and many sportscasters and newsmen sitting far from the play, the accident appeared intertional(sic). The frenzied booing of the wrought-up crowd and the snap-judgment condemnations of several radio announcers marked the first time in the career of the good-natured center such an affair had occurred.
As soon as the game ended, Lovellette with tears in his eyes walked over to the Missouri bench to apologize to Wilfong and Tiger Coach Wilbur (Sparky) Stalcup. The Missouri team all shook hands with the discouraged Kansans.
However, it was the crowd that was out for blood. Lovellette, as an All-American, has always been in the public eye more than any other Kansas player, and it was not surprising for the spectators, many MIssouri and Kansas State fans among them, to make the most of the incident.
It was the general opinion of many Missouri and Kansas athletic officials that the whole incident was grosely(sic) overrated by the crowd. Thruout the tournament there had been other rule violations as flagrant as Lovellette's misuse, none of which arroused(sic) the crowd to so great a frenzy.
Here are some of the reactions of those close to the play.
• Spark Stalcup: "I realize that Clyde never meant to intentionally step on Win -- he isn't that kind of a player. I've always had a deep respect for his playing and was sincerely sorry that it had to happen this way. Clyde is an All-American in all respects -- including sportsmanship."
• Win Wilfong: "Clyde never put his full weight on me. I realize how things like this can happen and don't think that he ever meant to step on me. He's a swell fellow -- I'm sorry it happened."
• Clyde Lovellette: "I remember turning and starting to run back -- all at once I was on top of Win. I probably could have missed him completely, but for some reason -- I don't know why -- my reflexes were slow and all I managed to do was to keep from stepping on him with all my weight. I only stepped on him with the toe of my foot. It's a regrettable incident and the last thing I ever wanted to happen."
At his home in Lawrence last night, Lovellette said that what happened Saturday was an "unpreventable accident."
"I'm sorry it happened ... I guess everybody thought it was deliberate, but it was just an unpreventable accident," the Jayhawk star said.
• Dick Harp: "Clyde has taken a teriffic beating during the two and a half years that he has been playing for us but has never resorted to dirty play. I know that he isn't going to start it now -- it's a tough thing to have happen especially when we had something to be happy about, but I know it's the last thing that Clyde would have wanted."
• Bruce Drake: "Clyde's high character and sportsmanlike conduct are known all over the conference and I'm sure the other Big Seven coaches and players realize that it was an unfortunate accident and was unintentional."
• Kite Thomas: "The officials had to remove Clyde from the game because it looked bad to the crowd -- it was the only way of keeping things from getting out of hand. I'm convinced that he didn't mean to do it.
• Jim Enright (the official who ejected Lovellette on the play): "I don't believe that Lovellette did it intentionally."
The bad reaction of the crowd was passed on by several radio announcers describing the game. One Kansas City announcer declared that Lovellette had deliberately kicked Wilfong and described it as "the dirtiest playing I have ever seen." The radio and press tables which were located at center court were in a reasonabley(sic) poor position to see the play which occurred directly under the Missouri basket.
Several sports writers hurrying to file stories for morning papers were unable to talk with either of the coaches or any of the players and their stories were tinged with the maddened mood of the crowd and indicated that the incident was intentional.
Tiger Coach Sparky Stalcup was highly impressed with the play of the Jays in the title game.
"They're certainly a power house and one of the finest teams in the nation," he said. "After watching Kansas in the last two games, I'd sure rank them as the number two team in the natnon if not the top squad -- they're really great.
The Missouri head man was proud of the showing made by his team made up largely on inexperienced freshmen and sophomores. "Our defense let up in the final quarter but we hustled and were in the game until the very end," he said.
Kansas Coach F.C. (Phog) Allen said following the game, "Our play was just what I expected, a letdown from the K-State game. You just can't keep a team up after a game like last (Friday) night's."
Allen sited Dean Kelley as playin a fine defensive game. Bill Hougland was unable to play up to his usual calibre due to severe fatigue as a result of the Kansas Aggie game, the doctor said.