Kansas City has a rich sports history that’s worth celebrating. With 2022 marking the 100th anniversary of 810 WHB, local author and historian David Smale will look back into Kansas City’s history and pick a significant sporting event that happened during that week in past years.
The grind of the NCAA tournament is about surviving three straight weekends each with two high-pressure games in three days. That day off is barely enough time to regroup and plan for the next game.
Imagine if there was no off day between the games in the Final Four. Then imagine if one of the teams in the championship game had to win in triple-overtime the night before in the semifinals. Then imagine if the championship game also went to triple overtime. Now that’s endurance exemplified, and that’s what North Carolina had to do to win the 1957 Final Four in Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium, 65 years ago this week.
North Carolina arrived in Kansas City with a 30-0 record. They obviously won the ACC regular season and tournament titles, but they had many close calls along the way. They had nine games decided by single digits before the NCAA Tournament started.
The Tarheels defeated Yale and Canisius in the first two rounds before knocking off Syracuse in the Elite 8—no Jim Boeheim did not coach the Orange in that game.
Kansas, which featured 7-1 center Wilt Chamberlain, only had to play two NCAA tournament games to reach the Final Four. The Jayhawks knocked off Southern Methodist, 73-65 in overtime before taking care of Oklahoma City.
Led by national player of the year Lennie Rosenbluth, No. 1 North Carolina had to face Michigan State in the first semifinal. The Spartans nearly won the game in regulation when Jack Quiggle’s half-court make was ruled to have left his hand after the buzzer. In the first overtime, UNC’s Pete Brennan hit a game-tying shot at the buzzer. The Tarheels pulled away to win 74-70 in the third overtime.
Kansas, meanwhile, faced two-time defending champion San Francisco in the second semifinal. The Jayhawks won that game with ease, 80-56, hitting nearly 60 percent of their shots.
Even though the Tarheels were undefeated and ranked No. 1, Kansas was favored, which irked the North Carolina players. They were not intimidated by the Jayhawks, knowing that containing Chamberlain would be the key. They were prepared to show that a good team was better than a great player.
“Coach told us in the locker room that Kansas couldn’t beat us, but Chamberlain could beat us,” Rosenbluth said in an interview in 2016. “We had to be very conscious of where Chamberlain was at all times.”
North Carolina jumped out to a 29-22 lead at halftime, but Kansas was quick to respond. A 10-2 run helped the Jayhawks take the lead 9 minutes into the second half. Neither team could pull away, and the score was tied at 46-all at the end of regulation. The Tarheels had a chance to win it, but Bob Cunningham missed two shots from short range. The Tarheels claimed that Cunningham was fouled by Chamberlain on the second attempt, but no foul was called.
North Carolina scored first in overtime, but Chamberlain tied it. With no shot clock, and probably standing on tired legs, North Carolina held the ball for the final shot. Chamberlain blocked the Tarheels’ attempt at the buzzer.
There were multiple turnovers by each team in the second overtime, but no points were scored. There were four turnovers, three missed free throws and two missed field goals combined in the second OT.
UNC scored the first 4 points of the third overtime, but KU scored the next 5 points to retake the lead at 53-52. Joe Quigg hit two free throws with 6 seconds left to take the lead and Carolina stole the ball to seal the win.
The Tarheels were vindicated, if not also exhausted. They had proven to be the best team in the nation. “There was some reason we were undefeated,” Rosenbluth said. “We only played eight games at home and 24 on the road or at neutral sites. They had to figure that we were a halfway decent team.”
David Smale has published two dozen books, mostly on sports history. He has written thousands of articles for various publications. He also hosts “Sports Connections with David Smale,” which is available at 810whb.com under the podcasts tab.