On March 22, 1958 the Seattle Redhawks (later changed to Chieftains) met the Kentucky Wildcats in Freedom Hall in Louisville in the NCAA tournament final.
Seattle was led by future NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor who averaged 32.9 points per game (ppg) and 19.3 rebounds per game (rpg) and had defeated Kansas State 73-51 which featured future NBA star Bob Boozer. Seattle had as a supporting cast Charlie Brown, 10.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, Jerry Frizzell 9.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg and Don Ogork 9.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg.
Kentucky 25-2 had a more balanced team and had had a close game against Temple 61-60 led by future NBA guard Guy Rodgers. The Wildcats were coached by legendary coach Adolph Rupp, coaching in his fourth NCAA final and led by Vern Hatton 17.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, Johnny Cox 14.9 ppg, 12.6 rpg, John Crigler 13.6 ppg. 9.9 rpg and Adrian Smith 12.4 ppg and 3.5 rpg.
The 24 team tournament also featured Miami of Ohio led by future NBA star Wayne Embry who were ousted in the second round by Kentucky and the Cincinnati Bearcats led by future NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson who as a high schooler attended Muncie Central.
It is interesting to note that Robertson, Embry and Adrian Smith would all play for the Cincinnati Royals as pro teams had the prerogative to draft players in their geographical area.
The Redhawks closest game came against San Francisco as Baylor had to make a thirty-five foot shot at the buzzer to secure a 69-67 win and in the next game against California in the West Region Final had to go to overtime to defeat California 66-62.
Although the final was in Kentucky Seattle was familiar with the gym having played there earlier in the Bluegrass Classic but they had to travel further to get there which may have made a difference late in the game.
Seattle took an early lead and led at halftime 39-36 and throughout the game until the six minute mark but Kentucky outscored Seattle 48-33 in the second half to win 84-72. Seattle which was one of the best rebounding teams in the country had to be less aggressive after Baylor picked up his fourth foul with 16 minutes left in the second half.
Baylor finished with 25 points but was only 9 for 32 from the field for 28%. He had hurt his ribs in the previous game and that may have been a factor as well as the tenacious Kentucky defense.
Vern Hatton with 30 points, Johnny Cox with 24 points/16 rebounds and John Crigler with 14 points/14 rebounds led Kentucky who outscored Seattle 26-12 after Seattle led 60-58 with seven minutes left in the game.
The balanced Wildcat five was too strong for the Baylor led Seattle team.
It was Rupp’s fourth and last NCAA title as he would get back to the title game in 1965 but would lose to Texas Western coached by Don Haskins.
For Elgin Baylor who would enter the NBA draft and be drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers this was the beginning of a brilliant career as as a pro in his prime he was termed by sportswriters the “greatest 6’ 5” player alive.”
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate