Kansas basketball coach Dick Harp had nothing but praise for North Carolina's battling top-ranked Tar Hells following the Saturday night NCAA tournament finals at Kansas City. North Carolina won 54-53 in a triple-overtime, and ran its victory streak to 32 for a new one-year record.
A pair of free throws in the final seconds of the third overtime by N.C.U.'s Joe Quigg settled the feud between the nation's top two cage clubs. The score was 46-all at the end of regulation play, 48-all after one overtime, 48-all after two overtimes.
K.U. lost Saturday just as it did 69-68 to Indiana in 1953 when the two clashed for the title. Indiana's Bob Leonard hit two frees with seconds left and K.U. couldn't get a shot down the hole before the horn.
Tightest One on Record
Saturday's tension-packed thriller showered a capacity crowd of 10,500 Municipal Auditorium fans with about every thrill known to the cage sport. When it was over, almost everyone was limp from the excitement. It was the tightest game in NCAA history.
North Carolina, ranked No. 1 in the nation, and Kansas, No. 2 prior to the tournament, proved to the basketball world why. Both clubs boasted All-America players, Wilt Chamberlain for Kansas and Lennie Rosenbluth for N.C.U., and they proved their merits often.
North Carolina had a victory streak of 31 straight going into the final game, and Kansas was 24-2. In addition Kansas had won the toughest basketball conference of them all, the Big Seven.
N.C. Hot From Start
N.C.U., with fantastic 64.5 percent first-half shooting, jumped into a quick lead, and held the advantage until nine minutes were gone in the second half. The Tar Heels forged a 19-9 first-half lead without missing a shot. Their first miss came at 10:11 of that opening period. N.C. once had a 19-7 lead over the slow-starting Jays.
On the other hand, Kansas hit a weak 27.3 percent in the first period, and finished with a 31.9 shooting mark. N.C. shot 46 percent. For only the third time this season Kansas was outrebounded. N.C.U. led in that department by a decisive 42-28. In each of the other two instances Kansas was outrebounded, it was by only two grabs.
Kansas first picked up the lead when senior guard Maruice King connected on a jump shot from the outside, making it 36-35. Just seconds earlier the fancy Jayh guard had scored on a long set shot.
K.U. Ahead and Stalls
Carolina went ahead again on Rosenbluth's lay-in, but Chamberlain made good a turn shot to make it 38-37 Kansas and Wilt added two free throws to widen the gap to 40-37 with 10:20 left. Kansas then began the type of stall that Carolina had been employing once it got leads.
However, Rosenbluth hit a jump to cut it to 40-39 and then Pete Brennan jumped in to give Carolina a 41-40 edge. Chamberlain's two charities made it 42-41 Kansas and then Elstun canned a lay-in on a pass from Wilt to make it 44-41 with 2:16 to go and it looked good for K.U. King later added two frees, but Tommy Kearns and Joe Quigg scored buckets and Kearns got a free throw with 20 seconds left to tie it at 46-all at the end of regulation play.
It was the second triple overtime for North Carolina in two nights. Friday, the Tar Heels defeated Michigan State 74-70 in a triple dealing.
Kansas had one final chance in the third overtime, when it called time out with five seconds remaining. But a Ron Loneski to Chamberlain pass was blocked by Quigg, and it was all over.
Feelings Run High
Feelings ran high through the final two overtimes, and twice players nearly came to blows. The two coaches, Harp and N.C.U.'s Frank McGuire, exchanged words in front of the Kansas bench but finally shook.
Quigg and Chamberlain wrestled for a loose ball and Tar Heel Bob Cunningham grabbed The Dipper around the waist. Wilt shook them off and exchanged hot words with the Carolina team. Later The Dipper laughed and shook hands.
Later, Kearns intentionally fouled Elstun, and Gene started to square off. That battle was also averted, as Chamberlain kidded both boys.
Harp called his brood together after it was all over, and told them, "This is the happiest year of my life, even though this trophy says second place."
Weather Fits Mood
The weather outside fitted the Jayhawk mood, and the players sloshed back to the hotel in the rain. Most of the boys' eyes were red from tears. More than anything else the boys wanted to win this one for Harp, the highly respected young Kansas coach.
Dick, who in his first season at the helm guided the Jays to the NCAA finals, wouldn't make excuses for his team's failure to win the big one. "Sure, we could have won it a number of times," he said, and then added, "but they could have, too. They deserve to be No. 1."
Harp, worn out both physically and mentally following the hectic struggle, told the press, "I'm sorry to see my intimate association end with nine of the finest kids in the world." The K.U. coach was referring to the nine seniors on the team, Elstun, Co-Capt. Johnny Parker, King, Lew Johnson, Eddie Dater, Baline Hollinger, Lee Green, Harry Jett and Ron Johnston.
No Predictions by Harp
A southern reporter asked Harp if the coach thought Kansas would be back next season. "We'll pen the season in December and hope that 27 games later, it culminates in our being here," Dick replied. "We'll continue to play the games one at a time."
Kansas thus ends its season at 24-3, and brings to the K.U trophy room the first national honors since 1953, when the Jays also lost in the finals at Kansas City, 69-68 to Indiana. A year earlier, Kansas won the national title with an 80-63 victory over St. John's at Seattle. The St. John's team was coached by the same cocky Frank McGuire who guided the Tar Heels this year.
Special Award Due
Chamberlain, and All-American who probably should be awarded some sort of a sportsmanship honor this season for his splendid actions on the court, tallied 23 points for game honors, hitting six field goals and 11 free throws. He also grabbed 14 rebounds for honors in that department.
Rosenbluth led his team with 20 points on eight field goals and four free throws. Brennan was top rebounder for the Tar Heels with 11. Rosenbluth fouled out of the gagme with 1:45 remaining in regulation play.
San Francisco won third place with a 67-60 victory over Michigan State. Frisco led at halftime 33-30. Gene Brown paced the winners with 22 points.