In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
North Carolina wins its first NCAA Basketball Championship, outlasting Kansas 54-53 in a triple-overtime thriller in Kansas City. The Tar Heels, coached by Frank McGuire, finish an unbeaten 32-0 season, while the Jayhawks coached by Dick Harp were seeking their second title. It was the first time the NCAA Championship Game went into overtime as the Tar Heels kept Wilt Chamberlain under control by using stalling tactics with the ball. Joe Quigg won the game with two free throws with six seconds left and deflected a pass at the buzzer that would have given Chamberlain a chance to win the game for Kansas.
The North Carolina Basketball program was a part of a growing powerhouse in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As the sport of basketball became more popular, the ACC emerged as one of the most competitive conferences. Coached by Frank McGuire, the North Carolina Tar Heels had their finest season in 1957, posting an unbeaten record of 27-0 after winning ACC Conference Tournament. McGuire, a former coach at St. John's, had a pipeline to players from New York led by center Joe Quigg, a defensive specialist who clogged the pain while Lennie Rosenbluth led the offense.
North Carolina may have been the best team in the Nation, but Wilt Chamberlain was the best player. The Kansas center from Philadelphia dominated in his first season of eligibility as he was on his way to becoming an unstoppable force on the court. The Jayhawks seeking a second NCAA Title posted a 21-2 season heading into the tournament. Chamberlain became the NCAA's most captivating player averaging 29.6 points and 18 rebounds per game, as opponents noted that Kansas could win the NCAA Tournament with Wilt Chamberlain and four cheerleaders.
North Carolina reached the Final Four with easy wins over Yale, Canisius, and Syracuse in the East Region. Kansas, meanwhile, was tested in the Midwest, needing overtime to beat SMU 73-65 while defeating Oklahoma City 81-61 in the Elite Eight. Michigan State made their first Final Four with wins over Notre Dame and Kentucky in the Mideast Region, while San Francisco seeking a third straight National Championship without Bill Russell, won the West Region by defeating Idaho State and California.
It was the seventh NCAA Final Four in Kansas City, and the Jayhawks had a decided home-court edge. In the semifinals, Kansas, with a 60% shoot percentage, dominated San Francisco, winning 80-56. North Carolina, meanwhile, was pushed to the brink, as an upstart team from Michigan State coached by Forddy Anderson pushed them into three overtimes. The lead changed 31 times as the Spartans had a chance to win at the end of regulation on Jack Quiggle's half-court heave that was taken too late as the buzzer had sounded. At the end of the first overtime, Johnny Green missed a free throw that kept the Tar Heels alive. Carolina tied the game on a basket by Pete Brennan in the second overtime, while Lennie Rosenbluth took over in the third overtime, leading Carlina to a 74-70 win.
There was no rest for the weary as North Carolina and Kansas played the championship one day after the semifinals. The game had the most extensive media attraction to a college basketball game to date. The Tar Heels got off to a fast start, leading 19-7 early and 29-22 at the half, as they were able to slow down the game and keep Wilt Chamberlain from dominating like had against San Francisco. Kansas started strong in the second half, as they took control of the game with a 10-2 run. Carolina began fouling Wilt Chamberlain, struggling from the free-throw line, looking to stay in the game. This led Lennie Rosenbluth fouling out with 1:45 left. However, the Jayhawks could not take advantage as the Tar Heels rallied at tied the game 46-46. They had a chance to win at the end of regulation as Bob Cunningham missed two shots in the final seconds.
Both teams scored early in the first overtime, but fearing Wilt Chamberlain, the Tar Heels took the air out of the ball. They held the ball for a final shot taken by Tommy Kearns and blocked by Chamberlain. The tensions rose in the second overtime as a scuffle broke out when Bob Cunningham committed a hard foul on Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain was hit in the ribs by a megaphone and banged on the knee by Carolina cheerleaders during the commotion. Feeling the effects, Wilt missed both free throws as the second five-minute overtime ended without a basket.
The scoring drought ended in the third overtime, as Carolina took a 52-48 lead with a pair of baskets. Kansas quickly got back in the game as Wilt Chamberlain completed a three-point play to shave the deficit to one point. After Cunningham missed the first half of a one-and-one, Kansas was able to get the equalizer as Maurice King made one of two shots from the foul line. With 31 seconds left, Gene Elstun gave Kansas a 52-52 lead by hitting one of two free throws. With running down, Joe Quigg had his shot blocked by Chamberlain but was fouled simultaneously by King. Quigg made both free throws with six seconds left to give the Tar Heels a 54-53 lead. Looking to win the game of Kansas, Ron Loneski attempted to find Chamberlain under the basket, but Quiggs tipped the ball away as time ran out. Despite losing the game, Wilt Chamberlain was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player with 23 points and 14 rebounds in the final.