Wisconsin and Stanford each claim one NCAA basketball championship, and it happened in Kansas City. The Badgers, who had finished ninth in the Big Ten a year earlier, defeated Washington State 39-34 for the 1941 title. A year later, Stanford, coached by Everett Dean, beat Dartmouth for the championship. Dean never returned to the NCAA Tournament and remains the only coach with an undefeated NCAA record (3-0).
Kansas captured its first NCAA Tournament in Seattle, and 1952 marked the first time four regional finalists arrived at one site, a final four. The Jayhawks qualified by defeating Saint Louis 68-64 in the regional final at Municipal Auditorium and Clyde Lovellette scored 44 points. The output set a school and building record and it remains the most points scored by a Kansas player in an NCAA Tournament game.
La Salle’s ‘Magic’
Kansas City fans got to see the first in a succession of college superstars in 1954 when Tom Gola and La Salle won the national championship over Bradley 92-76. Gola was 6 feet 7 and in today’s vernacular would be considered a point forward. He was his team’s best passer, shooter and rebounder. Future UMKC coach Darrell Corwin was 14 when he saw Gola play and called him “the Magic Johnson of his time.”
A true winner
Then came Bill Russell. Gola and La Salle returned to the title game in 1955, but they were no match for San Francisco and Russell, who wowed the Municipal Auditorium crowd by blocking shots in a 77-63 victory. Not just from the player he was guarding but also from the other side of the basket. Russell would leave his man, take two giant steps and get to the ball in time for the redirection. Russell, perhaps the greatest winner in American team sports history with two NCAA and 11 NBA titles, won his first in Kansas City.
Best in Buckeye State
The champion of Ohio would become the national champion at Municipal in 1961 when Cincinnati beat Ohio State 70-65. Oscar Robertson had moved on from the Bearcats, and Jerry Lucas led the Buckeyes. But Cincinnati’s balanced scoring overcame Lucas’ 27 points. John Havlicek had only four points and Bob Knight two for Ohio State.
UCLA, led by Gail Goodrich and Walt Hazzard, got by Willie Murrell and Kansas State 90-84 in the semifinals in 1964, and defeated Duke 98-83 for the national championship, the first of 10 for John Wooden. The day after the title, Wooden and his wife, Nell, were getting in a taxi at the Muehlebach Hotel headed to a church service in Prairie Village, when a bird made a deposit on Wooden’s head. “I think the Good Lord was letting me know, ‘Don’t get carried away,’” Wooden said in a 2006 interview.
The clock game
Michigan State had taken a four-point lead over Kansas in the Midwest Regional semifinal at Kemper Arena when the clock stopped. Play continued and the Jayhawks’ Ron Kellogg scored inside, but about 15 seconds had expired without the clock moving. Officials huddled, ruled not to make any changes, and Spartans coach Jud Heathcote was furious. Kansas went on to win in overtime 96-86 and defeated North Carolina State 75-67 in the regional title game.
Third for Vols’ women
A decade after the curtain closed on men’s Final Fours in Kansas City with the dynamic performance of Kansas’ Danny Manning, the women brought their championship to Kemper Arena in 1998. Tennessee made history, becoming the first women’s program to win three straight national titles by beating Louisiana Tech 93-75 in the title game to cap a 39-0 season.
College Hall of Fame
It’s not a game but an event. The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony in 2006 at the Hyatt Crown Center with some of the sports’ greatest names: Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, John Wooden and Dean Smith are among the first to be honored. Over the next few years, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Jerry West would be feted in Kansas City and be recognized in the College Basketball Experience.
The most recent NCAA Tournament regional brought to the Sprint Center one of the game’s brightest stars in 2009. Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin had 33 points and 17 rebounds in a 73-63 second-round victory over Michigan that propelled the Sooners into the Sweet 16. The performance followed a 28-point, 13-rebound effort in an 82-54 victory against Morgan State in a game that was remembered for Griffin falling hard to the floor after getting flipped by an opposing player.