Hail The Undefeated
The "Sweet 16" Teams Who Entered
The NCAA Championship Unbeaten
BY DICK FENLON
Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
Unbeaten they came to the NCAA
championship. Call the roll:
Columbia in 1951. San Francisco
in 1956. North Carolina in 1957. Ohio State
in 1961. UCLA in 1964, 1967, 1972 and
1973. Houston and St. Bonaventure in
1968. Marquette and Pennsylvania in 1971.
Indiana in 1975 and 1976. Rutgers in 1976.
Indiana State in 1979.
Hail to the Sweet Sixteen.
And say hello to Columbia's Gordon Ridings. The coach who started it all. "It was
about a week before the 1950-51 season,"
recalls Jack Rohan. "Gordon called us together before practice. He told us he had
been building for the season for quite a
while. And he said if we played as he had
designed things, he thought we'd go undefeated."
A heart attack felled Ridings that night.
He never coached again. Junior varsity
coach Lou Rossini took over. The Lions
won 23 straight before losing to Illinois, 79-
71, in the championship's first round in
Madison Square Garden.
"We just kept beating people," recalls
Rohan, then a sophomore for the Lions, later head coach, now golf coach and director
of physical education at Columbia.
"Against Illinois, our best player, John
Azary, had a severely sprained ankle. Bobby Reiss had heart palpitations. Al Stein
had a very bad night and our sixth man,
Bobby Sullivan, was declared ineligible because he hadn't completed a paper for the
school of engineering. And we still only
lost by eight."
And, even in defeat, began a grand tradition. Seven among the 15 that followed did
not miss a step. Trumpets, please, for 29-0
San Francisco in 1956; 32-0 North Carolina
in 1957; 30-0 UCLA in 1964, 1967, 1972
and 1973; and 32-0 Indiana in 1976. To the
summit they climbed, conquering every opponent, lords over all.
Two others, 27-1 Ohio State in 1961, 33-
1 Indiana State in 1979, faltered at the last
rung, the championship game. Two more,
Houston in 1968, Rutgers in 1976, fell in
the national semifinals.
The rest lost along the way in the NCAA
John Wooden, the "Wizard of Westwood," guided his teams to four undefeated national
championship, from the opening round to
the regional final.
Kindred spirits all, for they share a common glory: To the NCAA championship
they brought the Mystique of the Unbeaten.
"If I ever had one that I thought
might have a chance to go
through undefeated, that was the
(1968) team. And we didn't do
Famous players dot the rosters. Bird.
Russell and Havlicek and Lucas. K.C.
Jones. The "Big E" and Bob Lanier. Alcin-
dor/Jabbar and Bill Walton. Incredible players. Legends.
And the coaches. Begin with the Wizard.
Will anyone ever match the coach who
brought four unbeaten teams into the championship and came out with four unbeaten
champions? The coach who won, all told,
10 titles in 12 seasons?
John Wooden was more than coach. He
was the Magnificent Exception. More often
than not, dreams and unbeaten records go
a-glimmering along the championship's
Heartbreak Highway. The St. Bonaventures
and Penns and Rutgers of NCAA history
are mourned mostly by those who remember the glory of their pre-championship
But fate is not always heartless. Occasionally, it finds a way to make amends.
The first loss of the season came to Fred
Taylor and Ohio State in the championship
game against Cincinnati in 1961. To Al
McGuire and Marquette it occurred in the
first round of the regional against Taylor
and the Buckeyes in 1971.