In one of the most historic NCAA finals in history on March 21, 1966 the Texas Western Miners (later UTEP) took on the Kentucky Wildcats at Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland.
The game featured two Hall of Fame coaches in Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and the Miners’ Don Haskins. Rupp was already well known to basketball fans as this was his fifth and last final in his coaching career at Kentucky.
Haskins had player under Hank Iba (also a Hall of Fame coach) at Oklahoma A & M in 1952-53 and coached girls’ high school basketball before joining the staff at Texas Western. His coaching career spanned 38 years all at Texas Western.
His style of play emphasized defense and basketball fundamentals and he was not interested in the color of his player’s skin but wanted the best players on his team and on the floor playing.
The Miners 27-1 defeated Oklahoma City 89-74, Cincinnati 78-76 in overtime, Kansas 81-80 in double overtime and Utah 85-78 to earn the right to face the Wildcats.
The Wildcats also 27-1, considered the best team in the nation had an easier time defeating Dayton 86-79, Michigan 84-77 and Duke 83-79, were led by Pat Riley 22.0 ppg 8.9 rpg, Louis Dampier 21.0 ppg 5.0 rpg, Thad Jaracz 13.2 ppg 7.5 rpg, Larry Conley 11.5 ppg 5.6 rpg and Tom Kron 10. ppg and 8.3 rpg.
The Miners had a more balanced team with Bobby Joe Hill 15.0 ppg, Dave Lattin 14.0 ppg 8.6 rpg, Orstin Artis 12.6 ppg 3.5 rpg, Nevil Shed 10.6 ppg and Henry Flourny 10.7 rpg.
Kentucky averaged 86.9 ppg while allowing their opponents 69.9 ppg and was first in the country in SRS (a combination of strength of schedule and margin of victory) with a 20.19 rating while Texas Western was tenth nationally in SRS.
The Wildcats would run at every advantage but Haskins’ game plan was just the opposite-to control the offense and heavy emphasis on defense.
The game was historic in that for the first time in NCAA history five African American players started for one team and indeed only African Americans played that night for the Miners as the two players off the bench were also African American.
Haskins was successful in controlling the game and his team held a 34-31 halftime lead. Neither team did well from the field with Texas Western 22-49 .449 to Kentucky’s 27-70 .386, rebounding was 35-33 Texas but the big difference was Kentucky committing 23 fouls to Texas’ 12 resulting in 28 made free throws to 12 for Kentucky and for the second year in a row free throws made the difference in the game with the Miners winning 72-65.
That game changed college recruiting as the next year Rupp recruited the first African American player at Kentucky and other colleges followed suit.
Riley and Dampier led Kentucky with 19 points each with Dampier adding nine rebounds. Bobby Joe Hill led Texas Western with 20 points while Orsten Artis had 15 points and 8 rebounds and Dave Lattin had 16 points and 9 rebounds.
Rupp who was responsible for rejuvenating the Kentucky basketball program coached there from 1930-72 for 43 years until his forced retirement at age 70. He won 876 games while losing 190 for an .822 percentage with four NCAA titles and five NCAA finals appearances.
Pat Riley would go on to a successful NBA career as a player, coach and team executive.
Kentucky would return in 1996 under Rick Pitino but Texas has not returned to the NCAA final.
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate