College basketball's first true national championship game was played at Madison Square Garden when a special Red Cross benefit game was arranged between NIT champion St. John's and NCAA champion Wyoming.
Travel restrictions weren't a problem because the NCAA had moved its Final Two to the Garden. The NIT-NCAA showdown gave New York basketball fans a chance to get another look at Wyoming's All-America guard Kenny Sailors, whose dribbling wizardry and innovative jump shot made him the sensation of the season.
Sailors had scored 16 to lead the Cowboys to a come-from-behind win over Georgetown in the NCAA final. St. John's, meanwhile, had beaten Toledo by 21 to win the NIT crown. Wyoming won the Red Cross game, 5247.
The best team in the country, however, was probably Big Ten champion Illinois (171), which declined invites to both tourneys. The Illini were paced by the Whiz Kids20 year-old All-America forward Andy Phillip and teenagers Ken Menke, Gene Vance, Jack Smiley and Art Mathisen. They so dominated the Big Ten, that only Northwestern's Otto Graham could crack the all-conference team.
|Semifinals||Georgetown 55, NYU 36|
|DePaul 46, Dartmouth 35|
|Third Place||Dartmouth 51, NYU 49|
|Final||Georgetown 53, DePaul 49|
|Semifinals||Wyoming 53, Oklahoma 50|
|Texas 59, Washington 55|
|Third Place||Oklahoma 48, Washington 43|
|Final||Wyoming 58, Texas 54|
at Madison Square Garden, New York
|Championship||Wyoming 46, Georgetown 34|
|Most Outstanding Player||Kenny Sailors, Wyoming|
All games at Madison Sq. Garden, New York
|Quarterfinals||St. John's 51, Rice 49|
|Fordham 60, Western Ky. 58|
|Toledo 54, Manhattan 47|
|Wash. & Jefferson 43, Creighton 42|
|Semifinals||Toledo 46, Wash. & Jefferson 39|
|St. John's 69, Fordham 43|
|Third Place||Wash. & Jefferson 39, Fordham 34|
|Championship||St. John's 48, Toledo 27|
|Most Valuable Player||Harry Boykoff, St. John's|
(In alphabetical order)
|Before Tourns||Head Coach||Final Record|
|St. John's||183||Joe Lapchick||213|
|Wash. & Jeff.||164||Adam Sanders||185|
|Western Ky.||242||Ed Diddle||243|
|Big 6||Kansas (100)|||
|Big 7 East||BYU (71)|||
|Big 7 West||Wyoming (40)*|||
|Big 10||Illinois (120)|||
|Missouri Valley||Creighton (100)|||
|PCC North||Washington (124)*|||
|PCC South||Southern Cal (71)|||
|Southern||Duke (121)||Geo. Wash.|
(In alphabetical order)
Cowboys rope an NCAA title - 1943
This would be the first NCAA championship game played in New York, and Irish worked hard to build the attraction, held on the night following the final of his own successful creation, the National Invitation Tournament.
When the Wyoming party arrived in New York fresh from its victory in the Western playoffs at Kansas City, Irish accorded the players a heroes' welcome. He also made certain they were outfitted with 10-gallon hats and wore them around town.
Although they were not strangers to New York, having played several games in the city during a Christmas excursion three months earlier, the Cowboys fit comfortably into the role of foreign dignitaries. In truth, all the regulars except center Mile Komenich were natives of Wyoming and several, including star playmaker Kenny Sailors, had been raised on ranches. They were accustomed to hats and cowboys boots, and if that's what the Easterners wanted to see, that's the picture they would present.
On the court, the Cowboys also offered a style of play different from that practiced in the East. They were more inclined to run. They all shot the ball one-handed.
And Sailors even modeled a pioneer version of a jump shot, holding the ball above his head when he launched one from the outside.
Under coach Everett Shelton, Wyoming had played a rigorous schedule. In addition to competing in the Mountain States Conference, the Cowboys had twice defeated the Phillips 66ers, who went on to win the Amateur Athletic Union national championship. They had won 27 of 29 games before entraining for Kansas City.
There, in the Western playoffs, the Cowboys faced their sternest tests of the season. After rallying to beat Oklahoma, 53-50, in the opening round, Wyoming found itself trailing a resourceful Texas team in the final. The Longhorns, who had scored a dramatic 59-55 victory over Washington in their first game, roared to a 26-13 lead in the first 10 minutes against Wyoming. In that stretch, forward John Hargis personally equaled the Cowboys' point total on the way to a 29-point performance.
Wyoming did cut the deficit to 33-27 by halftime, but Shelton still was upset with his team's play.
"Well, you guys don't really need me around," he told the Cowboys at the half. "I'll go back to the hotel and start packing. You take care of the game."
It was a psychological spur that had the desired effect. Wyoming overtook Texas seven minutes into the second half, then sealed the 58-54 triumph after Hargis fouled out late in the game. The Cowboys subsequently boarded a New York-bound train for the second time that season.
Their opponent in the national championship game would be Georgetown, which had survived the Eastern playoffs staged at Madison Square Garden. The Hoyas had overwhelmed hometown favorite New York University, 55-36, in the first round and scored an impressive 53-49 victory over DePaul to qualify for the NCAA title game.
DePaul, featuring freshman giant George Mikan and concluding its first year under coach Ray Meyer, had been selected to represent District 4 when Big Ten Conference champion Illinois, whose "Whiz Kids" were the talk of the Midwest, decided to pass up postseason competition.
The Blue Demons made the best of their opportunity, demoralizing an outstanding Dartmouth team, 46-35, and dominating the first half against Georgetown before the team from Washington, D.C., solved the problems caused by DePaul's center. At the time, goaltending was an acceptable, not to mention effective, defense.
Although Komenich was one of the better big men in the country, the 6-foot-7 Wyoming pivot man by way of Gary, Ind., was not the distraction the 6-10 Mikan was.
And Georgetown had an effective post player of its own in 6-8 John Mahnken. The Cowboys, however, enjoyed a height advantage at the forward positions, manned by 6-6 Jim Weir and 6-3 Floyd Volker. They also had Sailors, whose ability to control a game was unparalleled.
As decreed by Irish, the Garden's acting president, Wyoming's presence on the court for the NCAA championship game was greeted by a rendition of "Ragtime Cowboy Joe." But there were few whoops and hollers for the Cowboys in the first half. The initial 20 minutes were played at a deliberate pace, and Georgetown exercised most of the deliberation.
The Hoyas opened a 13-8 lead as Mahnken and Bill Hassett each scored four points. Wyoming didn't stage one of its patented runs until the latter stages of the first half when, trailing 16-12, it overtook Georgetown on quick baskets by Weir, Volker and Sailors.
Georgetown nosed in front again at the outset of the second half and gained a five-point lead at 31-26 on a corner shot by outstanding guard Danny Kraus and a free throw by Dan Gabbianelli.
Only six minutes remained and it appeared the patient Hoyas were about to score a notable upset. It was then that the Cowboys staged the first of two spurts that overwhelmed Georgetown.
Komenich and reserve Jim Collins scored the key baskets in an 11-0 run. Wyoming pulled into a 31-31 tie in the span of 90 seconds and assumed a 37-31 lead before Bill Feeney converted a pass from Kraus and Lloyd Potolicchio added a free throw for Georgetown. With a three-point lead and two minutes remaining, Wyoming accelerated again.
Sailors put on a dazzling exhibition of dribbling and shooting as the Cowboys scored the final nine points. The 5-11 captain finished with 16 points -- he was the only player in the game in double figures -- and was accorded outstanding-player honors in the wake of Wyoming's 46-34 triumph.
"Even if he hadn't tallied a point," said the report in the New York Times, "he would have been worth his weight in ration coupons for his all-around value to his team."
The crowd of 13,000-plus was more than double the number of spectators attending the 1942 championship game in Kansas City. And the total audience of 56,876 for the five sessions represented an NCAA Tournament record.
New York and Irish had delivered for the NCAA.
Nor was that the end of the season. Irish had arranged to stage a special game between the champions of the NCAA Tournament and the NIT two nights later for the benefit of the American Red Cross. At a time when the NIT still carried greater prestige in the minds of many basketball officials and fans, it represented a significant step for the NCAA Tournament.
A powerful St. John's team had dismissed three opponents in the NIT to stretch its record to 21-2. The Redmen, coached by a famed member of the Original Celtics, Joe Lapchick, were led by 6-9 sophomore Harry Boykoff and captain Fuzzy Levane, the New York area's collegiate player of the year.
Wyoming and St. John's, met before a huge crowd in the Garden after Georgetown, which finished second in the NCAA Tournament, overwhelmed NIT runner-up Toledo, 54-40.
If anyone wished to express the opinion that it seemed strange for large young men to be playing Cowboys and Redmen in a New York arena, he wouldn't have been heard above the din. The two teams waged a magnificent struggle that the Redmen sent into overtime with an eight-point rally in the final two minutes.
Sailors appeared to have won the game for Wyoming with five seconds left, but his basket was disallowed because celebrated official Pat Kennedy had signaled a timeout for St. John's.
Weir scored five of Wyoming's six points in the extra session. St. John's managed only a single free throw and lost, 52-47. And the Red Cross was presented with a check for $30,909.98.
With another memorable conquest added to their victories over the eventual AAU titleholder and success in the NCAA Tournament, the Wyoming Cowboys headed home to a glorious reception.
Fire engines greeted the train in Laramie, classes were canceled for three days and the players couldn't pick up a check in a restaurant or barber shop, such was their impact on the sparsely populated state.
Best of all, some newspapers, taking note of the informal state of professional basketball, acclaimed the Cowboys as mythical world champions.
"For some kids from Wyoming," Sailors said, "that was something."