Editor’s note: This is the eighth story in the Journal-World’s series of the top 10 games in Kansas University hoops history. Introducing No. 3:
As the countdown continues, look back at the ten greatest games here:
5 - KU cools heels
Three members of the 1952 national championship basketball team who reside in Lawrence gathered for coffee on a recent morning and looked back one more time on Kansas University’s first NCAA Tournament title.
Bill Lienhard laughed about how “ornery” the team’s superstar, Clyde Lovellette, was back then, forever teasing teammate B.H. Born.
Al Kelley talked about how nervous he was that the cigarette smoking of his roommate, reserve Dean Smith, in hotel rooms would get them into trouble.
Bill Hougland remembered how little hype there was about the title game against St. John’s, said it couldn’t come close to matching that surrounding tonight’s Big 12 game between Kansas and Kansas State.
All three men talked about how well the coaches — head coach Phog Allen, the motivator, and assistant Dick Harp, the brains behind the offensive and defensive strategies — complemented each other.
As for the title game, an 80-63 victory against St. John’s in Seattle, not a great deal stood out.
What, Hougland was asked, did he remember about the game?
“Really, not a lot,” Hougland said. “It wasn’t such a big deal.”
At least not until the team returned to Lawrence late at night, boarded a fire truck and came across the bridge from North Lawrence.
“There were 10,000 people past midnight on Mass. Street,” Lienhard said. “The students and the people of Lawrence really rose to the occasion.”
Read the original LJW story: Matchless Jayhawkers subdue powerful St. John’s of Brooklyn
As for the game that triggered that celebration, Kelley said, “It wasn’t ever a close game.”
St. John’s, coached by Frank McGuire, faced a tough decision. Sag the entire defense onto Lovellette, KU’s 6-foot-9, 250-pound center, and make the rest of the players beat you, or pay special attention to Lovellette but still try to cover the rest of the players?
By Lienhard’s recollection, McGuire tried the first approach, daring the supporting cast to win the game, in the first half, the second in the second half. Neither worked.
“I did all my scoring in the first half, and (Bob) Kenney did about the same thing,” Lienhard said. “Because they were laying clear off us all the shots were what would be three-point shots in today’s game.”
Lienhard and Kenney each had 12-point games.
“Leaving everybody else open and collapsing on Clyde lasted about a half,” Lienhard said. “They opened it up, and Clyde got a bunch of points.”
To be exact, Lovellette finished with 33 points, hitting 12 of 25 shots from the field. He remains the only player to lead the nation in scoring and win a national title in the same season. He also led the nation in rebounding.
Lovellette was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tourney. He scored 141 points in the four games. Only TCU, losing 68-64 in the first round in Kansas City, came close to the Jayhawks, who slaughtered St. Louis and Santa Clara by identical 74-55 scores.
Lovellette’s skill and rugged style of play were too much for any team to handle.
Lienhard remembered a particularly physical practice in which Lovellette didn’t make it to the finish.
“Old Robinson Gym had swinging doors,” Lienhard said. “B.H. blocked his shot, and Clyde hit him with his elbow and knocked him clear out in the hall through those doors. And Doc said, ‘Clyde, to the dressing room. You’re through for the day.’”
Lovellette, who now resides in Munising, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula, returned to lead Kansas to the national title, and he did it on short sleep.
“Clyde had been invited to come out on a dinner cruise,” Lienhard remembered with a laugh. “The fog rolled in at night, and the boat had trouble getting back. Clyde didn’t get back until 1 or 2 in the morning.”
No matter. To hear Lovellette’s old teammates tell the story, the opposing coaches could have stayed up all night trying to devise a strategy to stop KU’s center, and he still would have dominated the game.