Back in December, Princeton's basketball team lost to top-ranked Michigan a scant two points, but the experts "fluke" after the Tigers had sprung the upset of the year, Last Saturday Princeton bombarded ranked Providence, 109 to 69, win the Eastern regionals of the NCAA basketball tournament, but the keptics were still unconvinced.
The weekend, Princeton, Michigan, U.C.L.A., and Wichita will meet in Portland, Ore, for the national championship. At midnight Saturday, when it's ever, the skeptics will be silenced-- or Princeton is going to win it with .
Princeton plays Michigan in the semi-finals Friday, and if ever a team can "up" for a game, Princeton will be up or this one. When the two teams met New York's Holiday Festival Tournament, Princeton held a 73-63 lead with four minutes to play, when All-American Bill Bradley fouled out. The Tigers ollapsed. With a full-court press that thoroughly discomfitted the sophomore-nominated Tiger squad, Michigan won, to 78.
The Wolverines have a rugged team, and their number one national ranking no fluke. Michigan's leading players is -5 Cazzie Russell, an All-American whose great shooting has been a major factor Michigan's 23-3 record this season. But the Wolverines' biggest assets are muscle and height.
Their starting five weighs half a ton; their front line consists of Oliver Darden, Larry Tergoning, and Bill Buntin, all of whom stand 6-5 or better. The little man on Michigan's quintet is George Pomey, a shrimpy 6-4, 195-pounder.
These are imposing credentials, but the fact remain that Princeton completely outplayed the Wolverines in New York, and would have won by ten points it Bradley had not fouled out.
During the past three months, Princeton's quintet has improved imeensely as its sophomores have gained experience. Michigan, a relatively experienced team, has not improved as much; in fact, the Big Ten champs have lost twice since the Princeton game.
The Tigers will get their revenge unless they have an exceptionally bad night or unless Bradley comes down with an attack of beri-beri before the game.
In the other semifinal contest, U.C.L.A. will murder Wichita. The Shockers won a thoroughly lacklustre midwestern regional tournament, and are no match for the U.C.L.A. team, which is ranked second in the nation.
U.C.L.A. lacks Michigan muscle and height, but has managed to compile a 26-2 record this year with excellent ball-handling, an adhesive zone press, and the consistent shooting of Gall Goodrich and Keith Erickson. Goodrich, a Lilliputian 6-1, is averaging 23 points per game and has sunk 54 per cent of his field goal attempts this year.
U.C.L.A.'s defense will probably be a bigger problem for Princeton than Good rich's shooting. But the Tigers' ball-handling has improved a great deal since the Michigan debacle, and if things get too bad, Coach Bill van Breda Kolff can al-sides, Providence had one of the nation's best defensive teams, and look what Princeton did to them.
Without question, Bradley is one of the greatest college basketball players in history. Harvard fans may have been a bit skeptical of the Tigers' golden boy when Princeton played here last month, but Bradley seldom goes into high gear unless the pressure is on. In the Eastern regionals, he was superhuman. Against Providence, he sank 14 of 20 field goals, 13 of 13 free throws, and made nine assists.
But Princeton had Bradley last year, and the Tigers were eliminated in the Eastern tournament by Duke, 101 to 54. The difference in 1965 is that the other members of the Princeton quintet are not just four guys named "hey-you." Ed Hummer (6-6) and Robbie Brown (6-9) have developed into excellent centers; in the two Eastern regional games, they collected a total of 43 rebounds. Junior guard Don Rodenbach is a fine ball-handler and outside shooter. And the team's tight man-to-man defense has functioned very well; in Friday's Eastern semifinal, the Tigers held North Carolina State to a pitiful 16 points in the first half.
The Tigers, in short, have the best basketball player in America, a good supporting and a tough defense, and they're out for blood this weekend. What more do you need for the national championship?