Kentucky returned from forced exile to win all 25 of its regular season games and reclaim the No.1 spot in the AP poll.

Despite a cancelled 1952–53 schedule, the Wildcats had stayed together and practiced regularly during their year off. No Rupp team was ever hungrier for an NCAA title. Tying LSU for the SEC championship (they didn't play during the regular season), the Cats beat the Tigers in a playoff to determine the NCAA qualifier. The NCAA, however, ruled that UK seniors Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos all had enough credits to graduate (which technically made them graduate students) and were ineligible to compete in postseason play.

Rupp cursed his fate (and the NCAA) and refused the berth.

Second-ranked La Salle (21–4), 1953's NIT champion, stepped up to the NCAA title with a 16–point victory over No.7 Bradley in the tournament's first nationally televised final. Tom Gola paced the Explorers with 114 points in five games and won his second MVP award in two tourneys.

Another Eastern independent, No.3 Holy Cross, beat No.5 Duquesne for the NIT title.  

Rules changes

Game is changed from four 10-minute quarters back to two 20-minutes halves.

Consensus All-America (In alphabetical order)

  First Team

·         Tom Gola, La Salle

·         Cliff Hagan, Kentucky

·         Bob Pettit, LSU

·         Don Schlundt, Indiana

·         Frank Selvy, Furman

  Second Team

·         Bob Leonard, Indiana

·         Tom Marshall, Western Kentucky

·         Bob Mattick, Oklahoma A&M

·         Frank Ramsey, Kentucky

·         Dick Ricketts, Duquesne


1. Kentucky
2. LaSalle
3. Holy Cross
4. Indiana
5. Duquesne
6. Notre Dame
7. Bradley
8. W. Kentucky
9. Penn State
10. Oklahoma State
18. Kansas


1.      Indiana
2. Kentucky
3. Duquesne
4. Oklahoma State
5. Notre Dame
6. W. Kentucky
7. Kansas
8. LSU
9. Holy Cross
10. Iowa


NCAA Results

First Round:
La Salle 76, Fordham 74 (OT)
N.C. State 75, George Washington 73
Navy 85, Connecticut 80
Notre Dame 80, Loyola (La.) 70
Penn State 62, Toledo 50
Bradley 61, Oklahoma City 55
Idaho State 77, Seattle 75 (OT)
Santa Clara 73, Texas Tech 64
Regional Semifinals:
La Salle 88, N.C. State 81
Navy 69, Cornell 67
Penn State 78, Louisiana State 70
Notre Dame 65, Indiana 64
Bradley 76, Colorado 64
Oklahoma A&M 51, Rice 45
Southern Cal 73, Idaho State 59
Santa Clara 73, Colorado A&M 50
Regional Third Place:
  N.C. State 65, Cornell 54
  Indiana 73, Louisiana State 62
 Rice 78, Colorado 55
 Idaho State 62, Colorado A&M 57
Regional Finals:
 La Salle 64, Navy 48
 Penn State 71, Notre Dame 63
 Bradley 71, Oklahoma A&M 57
 Southern Cal 66, Santa Clara 65 (2 OT)
National Semifinals
La Salle 69, Penn State 54
Bradley 74, Southern Cal 72
National Third Place
Penn State 70, Southern Cal 61
La Salle 92, Bradley 76

LaSalle Regulars: F Charlie Singley, So.; F Frank Blatcher, So.; C-G Tom Gola, Jr.; G Frank O'Hara, Sr., G-F Fran O'Malley, So.

All-NCAA Tournament Team






Tom Gola




Chuck Singley




Jesse Arnette


Penn State


Roy Irvin




Bob Carney




Top 10




NCAA Result








1st Place


Holy Cross


NIT 1st Place




L in Regional




NIT 2nd Place


Notre Dame


L in Regional




2nd Place


Western Kentucky


4th Place


Penn State


3rd Place


Oklahoma State


L in Regional


All-America Team






Tom Gola




Cliff Hagan




Frank Selvy




Bob Pettit




Don Schlundt




Offense: Furman, 91.7
Defense: Oklahoma State, 53.1

Individual Scoring




Frank Selvy



Bob Pettit



Buzz Wilkinson

West Virginia


Arnie Short

Oklahoma City


Individual Rebounding




Art Quimby



Charlie Slack



Tom Gola





• Despite being ranked # 1 and unbeaten, Kentucky declined to participate in post-season play because three of its starters would have been ineligible.

• Holy Cross, behind 20 points each from Togo Palazzi and Tom Heinsohn, won the NIT, defeating Duquense, 71-62.

• Frank Selvy scored a record 100 points vs. Newberry.


La Salle gets rich quick - 1954
By Joe Gergen
For The Sporting News

It surely was the shortest recruiting trip in history for a celebrated schoolboy athlete. After sampling the campus life at Kentucky and North Carolina State, Tom Gola literally walked downstairs and met the varsity basketball team at La Salle College.

The institution's gymnasium was located underneath La Salle High School, where Gola had spent four years.

There was the sense of a small community about the high school and college, both run by the Christian Brothers. Even as a high school student, Gola knew the president of the college. Indeed, it was the president who did the recruiting for La Salle.

Gola liked the tradition at Kentucky, where he was introduced to Wah Wah Jones and Babe Parilli, but Lexington seemed too far away. North Carolina State was too big. La Salle was home. Two of Gola's brothers would follow him to the college. They also received scholarships, no small consideration for a family of seven children raised on a policeman's salary.

Although it didn't play any part in his decision, there was an added benefit in attending the Philadelphia commuter school. Because the enrollment at La Salle was below 1,000, Gola would be allowed to play varsity ball in his freshman year. Ken Loeffler, the coach, never doubted Gola was ready for the big time at 18.

He was that rarest of athletes, a small man in a big man's body. The 6-foot-6 Gola had the quickness and the agility of a guard, yet he was big enough to mix it up inside. He was capable of playing center and forward as well as the backcourt and, best of all, he had a sixth sense about the game. There was nothing flamboyant about his actions, but his anticipation was so acute that he always seemed to be in the right spot.

"I have never seen a youngster with such poise," remarked Loeffler, who had coached at three colleges and in the NBA before taking the position at La Salle. "Nothing rattles him. He can do everything and do it well."

Furthermore, he did it right away. Gola was in the starting lineup at the outset of his freshman season, 1952, and the Explorers played their way into the prestigious National Invitation Tournament.

Gola's performances at Madison Square Garden were a revelation. La Salle, which entered the tournament with a 20-5 record, defeated Seton Hall, St. John's, Duquesne and Dayton en route to the school's first postseason championship, and Gola shared the Most Valuable Player award with a teammate, Norm Grekin.

Loeffler and Gola both thought the 1953 La Salle team, which lost only two games during the regular season, was better. But an injury to Gola hampered the Explorers in the NIT, where they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by St. John's, 75-74. Graduation virtually cleaned house that spring, leaving only Gola and 5-11 guard Frank O'Hara to team with a group of recruits, none of them very big.

La Salle began Gola's junior season with lowered expectations that appeared entirely justified when the Explorers lost three games before New Year's. Two of those defeats, including one in the semifinals of the Holiday Festival, were administered by Niagara.

The third occurred in the final of the Kentucky Invitational when Adolph Rupp's Wildcats, whose uniform Gola had contemplated wearing a few years earlier, thumped La Salle. Both teams would have reason to reflect on that result later in the season.

The Explorers lifted their game after the holidays. They won 14 of their last 15 regular-season games, losing only to city rival Temple (and that defeat was by a single point). For most of the season, Loeffler's squad anticipated another trip to the NIT, but by season's end the NCAA had other ideas.

The organization had expanded the 1954 NCAA Tournament field to 24 teams (it had gone from 16 to 22 the previous year) and authorized an automatic berth for the "champion" of the Middle Atlantic Conference, a loosely aligned collection of East Coast schools of which La Salle was a member.

So the Explorers, boasting a 21-4 record overall, found themselves headed for Buffalo and a first-round NCAA engagement with a tough Fordham team they had struggled to beat during the regular season, 61-56.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Wildcats, ranked No. 1 in both wire-service polls in the week preceding the start of the NCAA Tournament, found themselves out in the cold. Although they had won all their games, the Wildcats declined to enter the tournament when their three top players -- Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos -- were barred, under existing NCAA guidelines, from postseason competition because they were attending graduate school. (The three had spent their senior years playing intrasquad games, a result of the NCAA's decision to put the Kentucky program into mothballs for the 1953 season because of major infractions dating to 1948.)

A national championship seemed a long way off for La Salle when Loeffler's squad fell behind Fordham. The Explorers, in fact, trailed by two points in the final seconds when Gola hit Frank O'Malley under the basket with a perfect pass.

The 6-3 O'Malley scored just before the buzzer, forcing an overtime in which La Salle triumphed, 76-74.

Gola was outstanding in Eastern Regional games in Philadelphia, sparking the Explorers past North Carolina State and Navy. La Salle, a team Loeffler considered too small to succeed in any postseason tournament, thereby headed for the Final Four -- as the favorite.

Not only did Kentucky pass on the tournament but Indiana, with the entire starting team that had won the national championship the previous year, had been ousted by Notre Dame in the Eastern bracket at Iowa City, from which unheralded Penn State emerged as the survivor.

There was another major surprise in the Western half of the tournament. Bradley, which had lost 12 games, defeated Oklahoma City in the first round and then, playing in Stillwater, Okla., shocked Colorado and Oklahoma A&M. Bradley scored 71 points against the Aggies on their home court, the most yielded by Henry Iba's defense-oriented team all season.

Bradley's opponent in the national semifinals at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium was Southern Cal, which had won a Pacific Coast Conference championship playoff game against Oregon State and upset Santa Clara in Western Regional play in Corvallis, Ore. Between them, the Trojans and the Braves had lost 24 games that season.

The pairing for the Western championship guaranteed one of the combatants would lose at least one more game. That distinction would go to Southern Cal, by a mere two points.

And, after the 74-72 defeat, the Trojans went on to absorb loss No. 14 in the consolation game.

The Eastern title matchup marked the first time two Pennsylvania schools had qualified for the Final Four in the same year. But that was the extent of the competition. La Salle, directed by Penn State graduate Loeffler, was so much better than the Nittany Lions that Gola concentrated on setting up his teammates.

Gola took only nine shots, scored 19 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Frank Blatcher also scored 19 for the Explorers, who were 69-54 winners. Blatcher had extra incentive in Kansas City. He had dedicated the event to the memory of his father, who died the night the Explorers began tournament play in Buffalo.

Although Gola didn't dominate the Penn State game, it was apparent that his was an extraordinary presence on the court.

"He makes plays a little man should make," said Paul Unruh, the former consensus All-American from Bradley, "and then he turns around and does things only a big man usually does."

Gola not only scored the important basket and came down with the big rebound, he also set the tempo of a game with his ballhandling and passing.

"I have never seen one player control a game by himself as well as Gola does," Loeffler said.

It was Loeffler's opinion, admittedly biased, that Gola was the best-rounded player in basketball -- college or pro, present or past.

He certainly was too much for Bradley in the championship game. The gritty Braves managed a 43-42 halftime lead, but La Salle proceeded to go on a 30-14 run in which Gola contributed a three-point play that put the Explorers ahead to stay at 49-47.

La Salle had gone to a 2-3 zone at the outset of the second half to protect Gola, who had picked up his fourth foul, and the strategy befuddled the Braves. La Salle wound up winning, 92-76.

Once again, Gola had not monopolized the ball. He scored 19 points, four fewer than teammates Blatcher and Charlie Singley but led both teams with 19 rebounds in a typically understated performance. Still, despite his selflessness, Gola led all tournament scorers with 114 points and was named the Final Four's outstanding player.

The big-city school with the small-town enrollment had captured the national championship in most implausible fashion, thanks to a practically peerless player.

Still, there were skeptics. The final United Press poll ranked Indiana No. 1, Kentucky No. 2 and La Salle No. 11, which seemed reasonable enough considering that the ratings were released nearly two weeks before the NCAA Tournament concluded. The Associated Press, though, conducted its final poll after the NCAA final and listed Kentucky No. 1, La Salle No. 2 and upset victim Indiana No. 4.

Down in Lexington, Kentucky's Rupp thought AP's selection of his Wildcats over Gola & Co. was only fair.

Ramsey, one of Rupp's stars, pointed to a picture of Loeffler presenting Rupp with the championship trophy from the first Kentucky Invitational the previous December. The Wildcats had just beaten La Salle, 73-60, in the title game.

"In our minds," Ramsey said, "we felt we were good enough (to win the national championship)."