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On This Date in Sports March 24, 1956: The Don of Winning

In collaboration with the sportsecyclopedia.com

The University of San Francisco, coached by Phil Woolpert, becomes the third team to win consecutive NCAA Tournaments, beating Iowa 83-71 in the championship game at Evanston, Illinois. The Dons are also the first team to win the NCAA Tournament while completing an unbeaten season at 29-0. Leading the way for USF is Bill Russell, who scores 26 points with 27 rebounds in the final game.  

The University of San Francisco had a sudden rise in the mid-50s thanks to Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. The Dons won the NCAA Tournament in 1955, their first tournament appearance as Bill Russell won the Most Outstanding Player. USF finished the season on a 25-game, winning steak, posting a record of 28-1. The winning streak continued as San Francisco went into the tournament at 25-0, setting a record with a 50-game winning streak. 

There were 25 teams in the 1956 NCAA Basketball Tournament. For the first time, teams were divided into four named regions, with the Final Four being held on the campus of Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. It was the second time the finals were held in Evanston. The first NCAA Final in 1939 was also held in Evanston. San Francisco was the top seed in the Far West Region, beating UCLA 72-61 in the Regional Semifinals. The Dons beat  Utah 92-77 to reach the Semifinals. 

Iowa reached the Final Four with wins over Morehead State and Kentucky in the Midwest Region. It was the second consecutive semifinal appearance for the Hawkeyes. Rounding out the Final Four was SMU, who needed wins over Texas Tech, Houston, and Oklahoma City in the West Region. In the East Region, Temple earned their first Final Four appearance with wins over Holy Cross, UConn, and Canisius. 

In the semifinals, San Francisco got 26 points and 23 rebounds from Bill Russell to knock out SMU 86-68, while Iowa slipped by Temple 83-76. Temple defeated SMU 90-81 in the third-place game, as the Owls Hal Leer was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. 

The championship game was the story of Bill Russell who dominated again with 26 points, 27 boards and 20 blocked shots as San Francisco extended their winning streak to 55 games, winning their second straight National title 83-71. The Dons joined Oklahoma A&M (1945 & 1946) and Kentucky (1948 & 1949) as the third team to win two straight NCAA Tournaments. Russell would go on to the NBA with the Boston Celtics, stopping by Melbourne to win an Olympic Gold Medal. He would win an NBA Championship in 11 of 13 seasons with the Celtics.