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The Day in Sports | Countdown to 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century: MARCH 24, 1955

They Put West Coast Basketball on Map

March 24, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This was nearly a decade before UCLA began its domination of college basketball, when the center of the basketball universe was thought to be the playgrounds of Philadelphia.

There, the likes of Paul Arizin, Tom Gola and Guy Rodgers learned the game before becoming All-Americans at Villanova, La Salle and Temple, respectively.

But all that changed on this date, when basketball's power center, with one game, jumped to the West Coast. In the NCAA final at Kansas City, two University of San Francisco juniors, Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, led USF to a shockingly easy 77-63 victory over defending champion La Salle.

And to make certain everyone was on the same page, the Dons won the national championship again the next year too.

Against La Salle that night, after scoring 23 points before 10,500 in Kansas City Municipal Auditorium, Russell was jubilant.

"We played the greatest team in the world and we defeated the best team we ever played against," he said.

With its 26th consecutive victory, USF ended La Salle's 13-game winning streak and its record nine NCAA tournament wins in a row.

Jones held Gola, the La Salle All-American, to 16 points and scored a game-high 24 himself.

Said San Francisco Coach Phil Woolpert, "Jones did a tremendous job on Gola, who, by the way, happens to be one of the game's really great players."

Also on this date: In 1941, golfer Byron Nelson earned a $1,200 check by winning the $5,000 Greensboro Open by two strokes. . . . In 1980, Darrell Griffith led Louisville to the NCAA basketball championship with a 59-54 victory over UCLA. . . . In 1995, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was released from the Indiana Youth Center in Indianapolis, where he had served three years for rape.

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