On March 25, 1961 the defending NCAA champion and undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes 26-0 met the Cincinnati Bearcats 25-3 in the final of the 25 team field of the NCAA tournament held in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Buckeyes were led by All American and Associated Press Player of the Year Jerry Lucas 24.9 ppg, 17.4 rpg, Larry Siegfried 15.2 ppg and 5.0 rpg, John Havlicek 14.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg, Mel Nowell 13.6 ppg and 2.3 rpg and Bobby Knight 4.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg.
They had defeated Louisville 56-55, Kentucky 87-74 and St. Joseph’s 95-69 to get to the final.
Cincinnati was coached by Ed Jucker and featured Tony Yates 7.4 ppg and 3.5 rpg, Bob Wiesenhahn 17.1 ppg and 10 rpg, Paul Hogue 16.8 ppg and 12.5 rpg, Tom Thacker 12.3 ppg and 9.5 rpg and Cal Bouldin 11.7 ppg and 2.8 rpg.
Jucker had been a former assistant at UC who was in his first season as head coach. While OSU was in its second consecutive Final Four, the Bearcats were in their third as they had gotten there the previous two years but both times the Oscar Robertson led Bearcats had been defeated by California.
The Buckeyes had the pressure of the undefeated season on them as well as that of winning another NCAA title. Most of their games were won by wide margins but St. Bonaventure 84-82 and Louisville 56-55 were close games.
So it was with much anticipation that the favored Buckeyes met the Bearcats who were hungry for an NCAA title.
While Ohio State had a 32 game winning streak Cincinnati had a twenty-one game streak of their own. Jucker who was an assistant when Robertson was playing, was influenced by California coach Pete Newell and adopted that system of play. It was a slower style emphasizing defense and control of the game and it was this style that made the Bearcats successful.
They felt they had to control Havlicek and if they did that they could win and put forward Bob Wiesenhahn on him. While Jerry Lucas had a typical game with 27 pints and 12 rebounds and Siegfried scored 14 points Havlicek was held to 1 of 5 from the field and four points.
I remember watching the game as in those days not many games were on TV but the NCAA final was. It was close throughout with OSU leading 39-38 at halftime and continued that way in the second half and was tied at the end of regulation at 61-61 and went into overtime.
The Bearcats controlled the overtime outscoring OSU 9-4 to win 70-65 ending the Buckeyes winning streak and their chance for a second straight NCAA title.
Ohio State made 50% from the field as opposed to Cincinnati’s 45.3% but the Bearcats had fourteen more attempts 64 to 50 and outrebounded the Buckeyes 30 to 24. To put that in perspective Lucas alone had 30 rebounds against Kentucky in the Mideast regional final.
Bob Wiesenhahn did a masterful job on Havlicek and a balanced Cincinnati offense of Wiesenhahn with 17, Bouldin with 15, Tom Thacker with 15, Tony Yates with 13 and Paul Hogue with 9 points and seven rebounds proved to be successful. Jucker was a competitive, feisty coach and his personality carried over to his players.
Lucas would again get the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament award and both teams would be back the following year.
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate