The 1965-66 Hilltoppers
will always be remembered as one of the truly great teams in
Western history. Led by All-American Clem Haskins and the outstanding play of the Smith brothers, the Toppers plowed their way through the regular season with a sparkling 23-2 record outscoring their opponents by a margin of over 18 points per game!! The Toppers headed into the NCAA tourney primed and ready to bring a national championship back to the Hill. Unfortunately, after destroying Loyola (Ill), the #4th ranked team in the nation, 105-86, in the opening round, Western became the victim of what many still consider to be the single worst call in the history of college basketball.
Facing off against the University of Michigan and their All-American Cazzie Russell in the second round, the Tops held a 79-78 lead with 24seconds to play. Then eight seconds later Wayne Chapman stole a Wolverine pass and was blatantly fouled by a disgusted Michigan player. However, instead of making the obvious intentional foul call, Chapman was simply awarded a one-and-one, which he proceeded to miss. Still, Greg Smith soared high and snared the rebound miss, but then Cazzie Russell reached around Smith and forced a jump ball, and this is where the fun began. After the ball was tossed into the air referee Steve Honzo blew his whistle claiming that Greg Smith had touched Russell during the jump causing the Western bench and fans to explode in utter disbelief. Russell was awarded foul shots, which he hit, giving Michigan a 80-79 lead with eleven seconds left in the game. This was just enough time for Haskins to throw up a desperation 17 footer that bounced off the rim as time ran out on the Topper's season. A season that promised greatness but that was destroyed by one call.
Oldham, in his typical
classy and low-key manner, made this simple statement outside
of the dressing room after the game, "From where I
was sitting I thought it was a very poor call. I think the only
people who saw it were from Michigan." Most
however, weren't able to restrain themselves quite as gracefully
as Oldham, and for many the emotions flowed. Dwight Smith reportedly
cried all night after the robbery, and to this day Clem Haskins
has this to say about the incident, "The worst call
in the history of basketball. Officials never should determine
a championship. It cost us a national title in 1966." Adding a little salt to their wounds, upon returning to the locker room after the game the Toppers found that their personal possessions had been looted. Missing were wallets, watches, and money, but missing most of all was the chance to play adolph rupp and the kentucky wildcats in the next round. In fact, Clem states that he, Dwight, and Greg wanted a chance at them so badly that they probably overlooked Michigan in their burning desire to get at rupp. That was of course the historic year that uk was defeated by the all-black Texas Western team in the national title game. A game made possible by one official, who for whatever reason, felt the desire to end the dream of a magnificent team bound for glory.
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