by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

THE GOLD SHEET’s analyses of Final Four matchups will appear in our upcoming weekend edition, available Thursday night at 8 PM PDT. But anticipation is already growing for the final weekend of the college hoops season.

As for us at TGS, the conclusion of the college basketball campaign is often a time to reminisce. Especially for the Final Four in Atlanta, involving schools that have participated in the final weekend before...including two, Wichita State and Michigan, that along with UCLA and Princeton were grouped together in the 1965 version at Portland.

Unfortunately, that Final Four at the Memorial Coliseum (built in 1960 and which still sits, looking as good as new with its gleaming glass facade, overlooking the Willamette River and next to the newer Rose Garden) has been mostly forgotten by college hoops historians and many modern-day basketball aficionados. Those were the years long before ESPN arrived on the scene and even before the NCAA Tournament had secured a national TV contract. Instead, the NCAA produced the TV coverage itself in those days and sold the games to stations around the country in an independent package.

Final Fours in that era were also not the hooplas they would eventually become; indeed, the national semifinals, third-place game (also a relic from the past), and championship game were contested on back-to-back nights, on a Friday and Saturday. It wouldn’t be until the 1968-69 season that all NCAA regional and Final Four action would be conducted with a one-day break in between games (for several years all games were played on a Thursday-Saturday rotation, before the Friday-Sunday rotation was introduced in the later ‘70s). And while the 1965 Final Four was not played in a vacuum, covered about as extensively as the sports media structure of the day would allow, it would be several years before the Final Four would become the dominating sports event to which it would evolve.

The vast majority of hoop historians, however, have conveniently forgotten about the 1964-65 season, and that particular Final Four, perhaps for a few reasons. First, that season preceded the 1965-66 campaign and the championship won by Don Haskins’ upstart Texas Western, whose accomplishments became magnified in retrospect (to a much greater degree than they were at the time) because the Miners started an entire lineup of black athletes in the finale vs. Adolph Rupp’s all-white Kentucky side at Maryland’s Cole Field House in College Park. Thus, recollections of that era would eventually focus upon Texas Western and the string of seven straight UCLA championships that followed from 1967-73, and the varsity era of Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) that commenced in the 1966-67 campaign. Moreover, those steeped in the history of the John Wooden Bruin title teams are apt to overlook the Wizard’s second title team in 1965 while instead recalling the first championship hoop side in Westwood the previous 1963-64 season, and subsequent title winners featuring Alcindor, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, and Bill Walton, and eventually Wooden’s dramatic last title in 1975. Even many hard-core UCLA fans seem to have conveniently overlooked the second of Wooden’s title teams, in the 1964-65 campaign.

Still, had the specifics of that 1965 Final Four been replicated in more-modern times, we suspect it might have been as hyped as any in the history of the game. Interestingly, Wichita State, which this weekend will make its first appearance in a Final Four since ‘65, was the party-crasher that season and a decided underdog (even more so than the Wheatshockers are this season). And, in all of our 56 seasons covering the Final Four, we’re not sure there has ever been a more-unlikely member of the last weekend quartet than those ‘65 Shockers. More on them, and the ‘60s Wichita program, in a moment.

But the ‘65 Final Four was more about the other teams involved, not only defending national champ UCLA, but also Princeton and Michigan teams featuring the two top players in the country, the Tigers’ Bill Bradley and the Wolverines’ Cazzie Russell. Bradley, in particular, had emerged as a national sensation, at least to the degree of Larry Bird of the memorable 1979 Indiana State squad, which is also linked to this season’s Final Four as the last Missouri Valley rep to make it the final quartet until this year’s Wichita State team.

Of course, part of the Bill Bradley phenomenon in 1965 was that he played for Princeton, whose emergence as a powerhouse from the Ivy League was another major storyline of the era. Although there were a succession of strong Ivy reps in the 60s and into the 70s, including the Jim McMillian-led Columbia teams and several Pete Carril Princeton sides, including the 1975 NIT winners, Princeton 1965 was still the first Ivy side to reach a Final Four in 21 years. The Ivies had de-emphasized their football programs in the mid 50s, but could still field on occasional basketball power, which, thanks to Bradley, the Tigers became in 1964-65.

Bradley, a matchup nightmare as a 6’5 swingman with a vast array of shots who bypassed the Big Ten (where Purdue had seemed his likely college destination) and instead matriculated to the Ivies from the St. Louis area, had taken the entire East Coast by storm that season, too, as even normal Notre Dame “subway alums” in the New York area began to embrace Princeton and the Bradley storyline, packing the old Madison Square Garden for the annual Holiday Festival Tourney in late December to cheer the Tigers on against jazzy Cazzie and highly-ranked Michigan, which had reached the Final Four the previous spring, knocking off defending champion Loyola-Chicago along the way in the Mideast regional before losing to Jeff Mullins and Duke in the national semifinals in Kansas City.

Before the anticipated matchup vs. Michigan, Bradley and Princeton had to get past Syracuse in a first-round matchup. The Tigers had made the short ride to Manhattan still with the stigma of their supposedly weak Ivy League affiliation detracting from their notices. But it took Bradley only a few minutes vs. the ‘Cuse to show that the Ivies could play as hard as they studied. Syracuse set up in a four-man box zone defense, with ace defender Sam Penceal assigned just to Bradley. Penceal literally clung to Bradley, clutching, grabbing, clawing. Suddenly, obviously furious, Bradley lashed back with an elbow that rocked the husky Penceal as hard as any elbow he had ever received on the Brooklyn playgrounds where he learned the game. The crowd gasped, then whooped in appreciation; the referee sent Penceal to the free-throw line. A minute later, Bradley finally broke away from Penceal and got the ball for the first time. Immediately, he sank a 20-foot jump shot. By the half he had 23 points, and eventually 36, and Princeton won 79-69 in this battle of orange-laced uniforms.

Bradley’s aura grew even larger when scoring 41 in a narrow loss the next night to the Wolverines...even more so because he tallied all of those points before fouling out with 4:37 to play and his team, which was a 12-point underdog, actually ahead by 12 points! Without Bradley, however, the Tigers failed to hold on to their advantage and ended up an 80-78 loser. But by the time the Final Four had rolled around, Bradley had become a big storyline coast-to-coast.

And it was Princeton, not UCLA, Michigan, or certainly Wichita, getting most of the national attention heading into the Final Four.

Princeton entered that year’s Final Four having lost just five games (including the nailbiter vs. Michigan in the Holiday Festival at the Garden), all by either one or two points, and took a 13-game win streak into Portland. Although many suspected the key point in the campaign might have been when Bradley suffered a leg injury at midseason and missed several practices, in which animated HC Butch van Breda Kolff (who had famously said of Bradley, “Bill is not hungry”) was able to convince some of the other Tigers to fend better for themselves. And the supporting cast was pretty good, including 6’6 soph F Ed Hummer, whose son Ian just completed a honored career at Princeton. Like his son, Ed Hummer hit the boards and could score in the paint. Soph G Gary Walters was only 5’10 but was adept at getting the ball across the time line and providing a service line to Bradley. Another soph, 6'9 C Robby Brown, could hold his own vs. most of the bigs in the region. Juniors F Bob Haarlow (though only 6’2) and G Don Rodenbach both could play solid defense and hit outside shots when foes committed too many resources to Bradley.

But Bradley was still about as close to a one-man show as any college player we ever recall. In the East Regionals at Maryland’s Cole Field House, Bradley was mesmerizing. First, Princeton disposed of Press Maravich’s ACC title winners from NC State by a 66-48 scoreline, but Bradley was at his best in the regional final vs. Joe Mullaney’s fourth-ranked Providence side featuring future pros Jimmy Walker and Mike Riordan. Bradley was magnificent, making 14 of 20 shots, all 13 of his free throws, and scoring 41 points. Plus he added nine assists and ten rebounds. Final score: Princeton 109, Providence 69!

And it was the whole team that everyone was cheering. The Tigers shot a staggering 68.3% from the floor against Providence (while Bradley shot 70%) and 72.7% in the second half. In one stretch the Tigers went 12 minutes without missing a shot—14 straight from the floor and the free-throw line. By his presence Bradley seemed to make all of that possible, because the opposition was forced to concentrate on him, but never before had his teammates been so skillful at capitalizing on this advantage.

Michigan featured the explosive Russell, like Bradley a 6’5 swingman with an extensive repertoire of shots, but the Wolverines were bigger and stronger than the Tigers, who would be their semifinal foe in a rematch in Portland of the Holiday Festival classic at Madison Square Garden in December. Indeed, at times the Wolverines’ offense would appear crude, without much structure or finesse, instead emphasizing brute power, with the main “bread and butter” play simply calling for Russell to slide off 6’7 F Bill Buntin at the high post, move underneath, and look for a pass. If Cazzie couldn’t shake his man, he’d usually break out for a quick little jumper behind a screen set by 6’7 F Oliver Darden. Otherwise, Dave Strack’s Wolverines would either crash the glass with the springy Buntin (who was also a 20 ppg scorer) and Darden or rugged 6’5 Larry Tregoning, or cast off long bombs from the perimeter, many of those by the prolific Russell, who scored a whopping 25.7 ppg that season.

In the semifinals at Portland, Bradley, as was the case in the December meeting vs. the Wolverines at Madison Square Garden, found himself in foul trouble, and the Tigers could not compensate. Having problems controlling the bigger Wolverines off the glass, Princeton really got caught in the quicksand when Bradley picked up his fourth personal barely a minute into the second half. Van Breda Kolff was thus forced to employ an unfamiliar zone defense to protect Bradley, but Michigan was still able to navigate easily into the paint and score from close range. When Bradley, who scored 29 points, eventually fouled out with 5 minutes to play, Princeton’s last chances extinguished with him. Thanks to a lopsided 56-34 rebound edge, Michigan won handily, 93-76, qualifying for the title game against the Wichita-UCLA winner.

That the Shockers made it as far as the Final Four was a stunner, because the Wichita version late in the 1964-65 season was not as strong as it had been the previous two years or in the first half of the ’64-65 campaign when the Shockers had temporarily ascended to the top spot in the polls in mid-December.

Indeed, more than a few longtime Missouri Valley observers thought the 1962-63 Wichita side, under storied HC Ralph Miller and with a graduate assistant named Sonny Vaccaro, might have been the best team in the country by the end of that season. In the final month of that campaign, the Shockers had beaten top-ranked and then-unbeaten defending national champ Cincinnati (ending a 37-game Bearcat win streak) in a 65-64 thriller at the Wichita “Roundhouse,” thanks to an epic 46-point effort from 6’7 F Dave Stallworth, whose exploits were even more impressive since most of his scoring came against arguably the top defender in the nation, Cincy’s cobra-like Tom Thacker. When Thacker encountered foul trouble and couldn’t contain Stallworth, physical G Tony Yates had a bit more success slowing the Dallas product, who scored 26 first-half points, but Stallworth was getting to the foul line and converting his FTs late in the game to give the Shockers the points they needed to pull the upset.

Then, two weeks later at Chicago Stadium, with Stallworth scoring 28 and another future New York Knick, C Nate Bowman, scoring 11 and pulling down 12 rebounds, the Shockers upended eventual national title winner Loyola-Chicago 73-72.

By February, however, Wichita already had four Missouri Valley defeats and could not catch Cincinnati in the league race. Settling instead for an NIT bid, where Wichita was a prohibitive favorite to win the event, the Shockers were instead upset by Villanova, 54-53, in a quarterfinal matchup at Madison Square Garden.

The following season, led by Stallworth and Bowman, the Shockers won the Valley and advanced to the Big Dance, where they would reach the finals of the Midwest Regional on their home court at the Roundhouse before losing to Tex Winter’s Kansas State, 94-86. After the season, Miller resigned to take the head coaching job at Iowa, succeeded in Wichita by 32-year-old assistant Gary Thompson.

Wichita had also been the beneficiary of the “color line” in the south of that era, wherein no SEC or Southwest Conference teams would recruit black athletes. For many of those sorts, the Missouri Valley provided the chance to play major college hoops closest to home. Star Texas preps often flocked to the Valley; McCoy McLemore, who evnetually enjoyed a long NBA career, prepped in Houston but would attend Drake, while the Shockers were able to get both of their big stars from the Metroplex, as Stallworth hailed from Dallas and Bowman from Fort Worth.

And there were still plenty of racial tensions in the mid ‘60s, especially for road games. The Shocker team bus had to pull up almost flush against the rear door of the arena in Tulsa so the team could avoid being pelted by rocks when they exited the bus. In a game at Louisville, Thompson told the team at halftime he would start five black players for the second half. This was a year before Texas Western started five black players against all-white Kentucky in the national championship game and changed college basketball.

“He didn’t know how the crowd would respond,” G Dave Powers said in a recent interview with the Wichita Eagle. “He told us, ‘No matter what happens, you guys stand still. Don’t get away from each other.’ There were no incidents. But that actually happened.”

Stallworth’s eligibility, however, would expire midway in the 1964-65 season. He had originally entered the university at the semester break because of a freak accident as a child. He’d slipped and fallen into a bathtub full of scalding water at his home in Dallas when he was in elementary school, suffering near-fatal burns to his left hand and stomach. The injuries forced him to start at mid-term throughout the rest of his schooling.

Stallworth had started his varsity career at mid-year in February of '62, and there was no skirting the rule. The Shockers knew they would have him for only a semester as a senior.

In a recent interview with the Kansas City Star, Stallworth said he tried to talk Miller into holding him out a semester so he could eventually play in the postseason of his final year.

“I thought Ralph would hold me out, but he didn’t,” Stallworth said. “We talked about it. He thought he could win with me.” Sources say that Miller wanted to win ASAP with Stallworth and wasn't concerned about a full season of eligibility a few years hence, when the coach would likely be off to greener pastures (as Miller would, eventually hired by Iowa in '64). So Stallworth's college career was fast-forwarded.

When he left the team midway in the '64-65 season, Stallworth was averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds a game. He’d scored 45 and 40 points in his last two games, but was playing AAU basketball for the Arkansas City May Builders when the Shockers were in the Final Four. Still, the team was braced for Stallworth’s departure.

“We knew that was going to happen, and felt like we could continue to run the same offense and the same defense we had,” said G John Criss. “We still had Nate (Bowman) in the middle.”

Bowman, however, would become academically ineligible at approximately the same time as Stallworth exhausted his eligibility. Which left Thompson with a team featuring no starters taller than 6’5 (including a 6’1 F, Kelly Pete) and without two mega-forces who would go on to become first-round draft choices by the NBA New York Knicks, and a squad that was forced to adjust the offense accordingly. Fortunately for Wichita, it had started the season at 13-2 and built a cushion in the Valley, and was able to hold on to the league lead with its smaller lineup. Entering the Midwest Regional at 19-7, the Shockers were able to outlast Southwest Conference champ SMU, 86-81, then faced Hank Iba’s Oklahoma State, which tried to slow the pace and make the game a chess match vs. Thompson. Wichita prevailed, 54-46, and advanced to Portland.

So, minus their top two players, and with a lineup featuring no starter taller than 6’5, the Shockers were in the Final Four!

The fun didn’t last for long. In the national semifinals, defending champ UCLA, then led by G Gail Goodrich and F Keith Erickson after sr. Walt Hazzard had led Wooden’s team to the title the previous March, blitzed Wichita with its withering full-court press and turned the game into a rout before halftime, when the Bruins extended their lead to a whopping 65-38. With Goodrich scoring 28 and soph F Edgar Lacey adding 24, UCLA would cruise, 108-89.

In a much-anticipated final the next night vs. Michigan, Goodrich was at it again, knifing through the Wolverines almost at will, while the Bruin full-court press once again turned the game inside-out before halftime, erasing a 20-13 deficit with a breathtaking burst that would put UCLA comfortably ahead, 47-34, by halftime. And with Goodrich on his way to a then-NCAA Finals record 42 points (a mark broken eight years later by future UCLA star Bill Walton’s 44 points against Memphis State in the 1973 title game) and G Kenny Washington adding 17 more from the bench, the Bruins scored a handy 91-80 win for their second straight title.

Although hard-core hoops followers have long acknowledged Goodrich’s great effort, it still rankles that so many hoops insiders don’t make more mention of his exploits in ’65. In fact, what seems to be recalled more about that 1965 Final Four was Bradley’s performance in the consolation game vs. the poor Shockers when he poured in a tourney-record 58 points that still stands to this day. Wichita was on the short end of a 118-82 beatdown vs. Bradley and Princeton, giving the Shockers the ignominious honor of allowing 100 or more points (indeed, 113 ppg) in both of their games at the Final Four, a defensive futility mark almost surely never to be touched, especially since the third-place games were eliminated after the 1980 season. Bradley was thus named Most Outstanding Player of the tourney despite his Princeton team not even reaching the final, perhaps another reason why UCLA and Goodrich’s prodigious efforts in Portland have been unfairly overlooked by many historians.

As for Wichita, the program began to list under Thompson after the Final Four appearance. The Shockers began to slip back to the .500 level in the late ’60s, although they featured one of the most exciting players of the era, Warren Armstrong (right), a terrorizing 6’2 G/F and one of the great leapers in basketball history. Armstrong would go on to a decorated career in the ABA, where he was Rookie of the Year as a member of the 1969 champion Oakland Oaks before changing his name to Warren Jabali and developing a reputation as one of the most-feared players in league history. His career was slowed by a knee injury, but while healthy, Jabali provided many highlight-reel dunks that are still recalled fondly by ABA aficionados. Though he was mostly a long-range shooter by the time his career ended in the mid ’70s.

As for coach Thompson, he was eventually dismissed after his fourth straight losing season in the 1970-71 campaign.

True to their roots, however, the Shockers would eventually recover and field several colorful and entertaining teams beginning in the mid 1970s under HC Harry Miller, when stars Lynbert “Cheese” Johnson and Robert Elmore (Len’s younger brother, who would sadly pass away when playing overseas in later years) led a renaissance that continued into the Gene Smithson era with a collection of notable teams featuring Cliff Levingston, Antoine Carr, Xavier McDaniel, and Greg Dreiling, including one team that reached the Elite Eight in 1981 before losing to Dale Brown’s LSU. That, however, was the closest the Shockers had come to the Final Four since 1965 until this season.

So, with Michigan once again joining Wichita in the Final Four, it’s almost as if old friends are getting together once again. And we at TGS are glad that we can recall the last time Wichita State advanced this far in the Big Dance, 48 years ago!

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