KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The raging Kansas basketball team has just finished unleashing a blistering fast break attack Friday to bury defensive-minded San Francisco 80-56 and win the 1957 NCAA Western championship. The K.U. team was happy but a long way from delirious, but it was looking ahead as it gathered in the dressing room for a few post-game words from coach Dick Harp.
"Boy, we've got just one more now - North Carolina, the one we've wanted a chance to play for quite a while," the coach said calmly. "You won that chance like real champions tonight and I was awfully proud of you. But even before you won tonight you already had given me the happiest year of my life. Now I'm just one day happier.
"N.C. is rated No. 1 and we're No. 2, and any good team wants a chance to prove something like that is wrong. But the main reason to win against N.C. is for yourselves. You have worked hard, have come a long and you deserve to win. You're the greatest kids in the world, and if you do your best you'll do okay. N.C. is big, good, poised and tough, but you can beat them. All you have to do is get out there and play the way you did tonight."
Carolina had a hairbreadth call, winning 74-70 against a fine Michigan State team in three overtimes. Michigan State once could have won it with 11 seconds left in the second overtime, but center John Green missed the free throw that would have given his team a three-point lead, and forward Pete Brennan tied the score just before the horn.
Veteran cage observers called the Tar Heel-Spartan battle the most exciting they had ever seen, nip and tuck all the way. It was the closest game in meet history, of course.
Kansas, which shredded the vaunted Frisco man-for-man defense with fine operation of the fast break it's always bad but hasn't used as much snapped the Don - NCAA string at 11 games. Frisco was 1955 and 1956 NCAA champ. K.U. once again disproved conclusively the foolish nation that it is a "one-man team." There was tremendous support for All-American Wilt Chamberlain from Gene Elstun, Maurice King, Lew Johnson, Ron Loneski, John Parker and Bob Billings. The reserves also had a field day and Billings and Lynn Kindred were the only Jayhawkers who didn't score. Kansas blasted the Dons into obscurity with a terrific second-half splurge. Kansas led only 38-34 at the half.
The Jayhawks shot 59.6 percent from the field while Frisco fired 44.1 percent. K.U. was 59.3 at the half while Frisco was 44.3 . It was just too much K.U., too often.
This was the first time a college team scored more than 67 points on Frisco this year, and it could have been worse if Harp hadn't been merciful. The U.S. Olympic team scored 83 and Pepperdine College posted the previous college high of 67.
Coach Phil Woolpert of San Francisco was lavish in his praise of the entire Kansas team and called it "one of the greatest I've seen." He admitted the K.U. break offense ripped his defense, which was a man-for-man with sagging for Wilt. But he said he'd do the same thing over again because it was the best the Dons could do under the circumstances. How about a comparison of Chamberlain and Russell - Don All-American of the past two title years?
"A comparison would really be unfair," Woolpert said. "Naturally, Wilt is a sensational player. He's better on offense but Russell was better on defense. They're actually pretty different and yet a lot alike. However, I'd not try to say one is better than another for a lot of reasons. Naturally, I have a special spot in my heart for Russell since he was my boy. But this Wilt is every bit as great as they say he is, maybe moreso. My kids are just as flabbergasted by him as I, and they played with Russell."
Chamberlain, who hit 32 points in a brilliant display, remarked to the other Jayhawkers: "Okay, boys, this is the one we've been working for and hoping to get. Let's get ready and beat this North Carolina."
Perhaps the happiest man on the Kansas team was senior guard Maruice King, who finally had that "really good" night in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium. Reece had played there on nine other occasions (in the Big Seven tournament) and never had that sensational showing. He was brilliant, however, Friday and scored 13 big points as well as playing a great floor game.
"Gosh, it sure feels good to finally have that good one here," the former K.C. prep star said afterwards. "You don't know how it's bothered me never to look good in K.C. I hope I can come back with another, against North Carolina. We'll all have to be at our best to beat them because they're really good. Anybody who can win like they did tonight has to be sharp."
Co-Capt. Gene Elstun, who also was outstanding, as usual, and popped in 16 points, grinned as he talked about the KU fast break.
"I don't think I've ever run so far and so fast in my life, and enjoyed it so much," he said. "We've had the fast break all year but just haven't been using it a lot until late in the season. The reason we could do it so well tonight is that we were doing things the way we wanted to do them, setting our own pattern."
The other kids were all smiles because of the break and you got the idea they were ready to try it on North Carolina. Everyone was going wild on the bench near the end of the game as each teammate pulled for everyone else to get some points. Eddie Dater got a bucket, Monte Johnson got one and the kids were trying to root Kindred and Billings over the hump. But they couldn't quite make it.
In regard to the break offense, Harp said, "We did nothing at all new, but just did what we knew how to do right. We were getting good outlet passes off the boards and starting the move toward the other bucket quickly as well and the boys took care of themselves. We aren't real fast afoot but we'll run with anybody. We had a great second half, just as we have before, and it must just be we need that half-time talk to get us over the hump. It sure has worked out in the Oklahoma City and San Francisco games."
"We started concentrating on our break before the K-State game at Manhattan and have come along well. We ran a little the first of the year then tailed off. The kids love to run and so we'll try to keep it up."
"You know," Harp continued, "many times this year we've been criticized for our errors and our lack of poise, but that doesn't worry me or the boys. As long as we get the all-out effort we've been getting down the stretch, we'll take that in preference to flawless basketball and all the poise in the world because for us it pays more dividends. We don't consider an error the most critical thing in the world and don't whip boys from them.
"As for North Carolina, they deserve to be rated No. 1 in the nation after that game with Michigan State. The Tar Heels didn't play a really good technical game and their shooters, especially Len Rosenbluth, was off. Yet they had the courage and the guts to stick in there and win it the tough way against a great team, Michigan State. You have to be a great club to do that, and they are great."
Harp blasted persons who call teams like Kansas with Chamberlain and N.C. with Rosenbluth one-man outfits.
"That's ridiculous," he said. "No one-man team ever has gotten this far in NCAA play and the records will bear me out. Wilt isn't our team and Lennie isn't Carolina's. Bill Russell wasn't Frisco's only man in the title years of 1955 and 1956. He had other great boys with him, and the same applies to these two finalists.
"I presume the boys, being normal kids, are as eager to play North Carolina as I am. We want to play them to see who's the best. It should be a great game and I'm sure happy I have a good seat. We haven't scouted N.C. and don't know a lot about them except what we've read and have seen here. We know they're great. We couldn't devote much time to scouting them because we were too busy trying to win games to get this far."
Coach Frank McGuire of N.C. admits he has a full scout report on K.U. McGuire has labeled Chamberlain "the best I've seen." Harp thinks Carolina definitely will be tougher than S.M.U., which K.U. edged 73-65 in overtime in the first round of the Dallas NCAA Regional last Friday.