Sports

The Only NCAA Tourney Holy War Came In 1971

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By Joseph Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—You have to go back. Way, way back. Back to when the NCAA Tournament had just 25 teams, no shot clocks, and when not every tournament game was shown on TV. Back to when there were no seedings, but there were consolation games for third place and only one team truly dominated the college hoops landscape—the legendary John Wooden and his UCLA Bruins.

If Villanova and St. Joe’s win on Thursday, it will mark the second time the two schools will ever play each other in the NCAA Tournament.

The last time—and only time—St. Joseph’s ever met archrival Villanova in the NCAA Tournament was on March 13, 1971—at the Palestra. And technically speaking, St. Joe’s won—with an asterisk attached.

Jack Kraft was the Wildcats’ head coach and Howard Porter, Chris Ford, Hank Siemiontkowski, Tom Ingelsby and Clarence Smith were the stars of that team—a five-man iron squad. St. Joe’s had some firepower, too, led by coach Jack McKinney and his star, 1972 Olympian Mike Bantom.

Villanova stomped on the Hawks in the first round of that tournament, 93-75. The Wildcats went on to win three more games, beating Western Kentucky in the Final Four in double overtime.

That was the last hurrah for what was both an historic, and tragic, Villanova team. The ’71 Cats reached the NCAA Championship, only to fall to Wooden’s fifth-straight NCAA champion, led by Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe and former 76er Henry Bibby.

The Bruins beat Villanova, 68-62, in the championship. But not before Porter and Ford made them sweat, helped by a rare, tactical error by the Wizard of Westwood himself that almost cost his team the title.

Kraft had employed a 2-3 zone. It frustrated Wooden, a proponent of a shot clock and rhythm basketball. Wooden thought he’d yank the Wildcats of their zone by going into a Four Corners, stalling offense.

But when Kraft went to man, the move almost had a disastrous effect for Wooden’s Bruins. UCLA became unglued. The Bruins began turning the ball over, and what was once a comfortable 45-37 halftime lead shrunk to a 63-60 advantage with about a minute to play (with no three-point line then). A Porter miss could have pulled the Wildcats to within one, but the UCLA salted away the final seconds to seal the victory at the line.

Porter was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, after stepping on the much-ballyhooed Wicks in the final, getting 25 points and eight rebounds to Wicks’ seven and nine.

After the season, an NCAA investigation discovered Porter had signed with an agent. Regrettably, Villanova voluntarily forfeited all its victories dating back to Dec. 16, 1970, the day Porter signed. Including the Wildcats’ victory on the court against St. Joe’s.

As a result, both the Wildcats’ runner-up finish and Porter’s MOP award were “vacated.” Villanova had to return the $72,000 it received from the tournament.

Porter signed a five-year NBA contract worth $1.5 million, with the Chicago Bulls, who drafted Porter in the second round by one Pat Williams, then the GM of the Bulls who would go on to become the architect of the 1982-83 World Champion Sixers.

Porter never became the star many thought he would be. Dick Motta, the Bulls coach at the time, quickly saw that the first time he watched Porter practice, saying afterward, “Howard Porter can’t play” at the NBA level. Porter overcame some personal demons and finally reconciled with his old school before his tragic death on May 27, 2007 after being severely beaten as a probation officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.

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