March 21, 2008

A SENSE OF WHERE WE WERE:

A WHOLE TEAM TOUCHED BY STARDUST: Led by marvelous Bill Bradley, Princeton routed the East's best and swept on to the finals of the national basketball championship in Portland where, still the underdog, it faces Michigan and then, hopefully, UCLA (Frank Deford, March 22, 1965, Sports Illustrated)

Never has a group of poor little rich boys been so popular as the Princeton basketball team that won the Eastern Regional title of the NCAA tournament last Saturday. Princeton has not been such a national threat since Aaron Burr, class of 1772, very nearly set up his own empire in the Middle West. But there the Tigers were in College Park, Md., beating North Carolina State 66-48 and absolutely ruining Providence, the fourth-ranked team in the nation, 109-69.

Bill Bradley was magnificent. He made 14 of 20 shots, all 13 of his free throws—41 points—and he had nine assists and 10 rebounds. "I'll just tell them that he's the greatest that ever lived," said Tom Jorgenson, who was scouting for Michigan, "because they won't believe anything else I tell them." (Michigan won its regional title and will meet Princeton on Friday in Portland for the eastern championship. It is the first time in 21 years that an Ivy League team has gone so far in the NCAAs, and no Ivy team has ever won. Defending champion UCLA and Wichita will also meet Friday for the western title. The grand final is Saturday.)

Suddenly the adoration of Bradley has spread to embrace the whole Princeton team, and the Tigers are the darlings of college basketball. In New York even Notre Dame's famous subway alumni were, temporarily, diverting their allegiance to Princeton. The normally blasé Princeton student body showed up 1,000 strong to welcome the team back to the campus.

And it was the whole team that everyone was cheering. It was the whole Princeton team that shot 68.3% against Providence (while Bradley shot 70%) and 72.7% in the second half. In one stretch the Tigers went 12 minutes without missing a shot—14 straight from the floor and the free-throw line. They outrebounded the Friars, they outdefensed them, outran them when that was the game and patiently destroyed the strong Providence combination defense when things slowed down. By his presence Bradley makes all of this possible, because the opposition must concentrate on him, but never before had his teammates been so skillful at capitalizing on this advantage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 21, 2008 1:39 PM
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