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On This Date in Sports March 22, 1958: Fiddlin' Around

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Kentucky emerges from the ashes of scandal to win the NCAA Tournament, beating Seattle 84-72 in Louisville. The Wildcats were a powerhouse winning three championships in four years before a point-shaving scandal led to them being shut down by the NCAA in 1953. In the aftermath, Kentucky remained a solid team under Adolph Rupp and again reclaimed its spot at the top of the college basketball world. 

Led by Adolph Rupp, the Kentucky Wildcats became a powerhouse following World War II. They won their first NCAA Tournament in 1948, becoming the second school to win the NCAA Championship two years in a row the following year. After a down year in 1950, Kentucky reclaimed its crown in 1951, becoming the first school to win the NCAA Tournament thrice. 

The 1951 championship would be tarnished months later as several players in their championship years admitted to shaving points to keep scores low and not cover the point spread. While the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight in 1952, Kentucky was punished and not allowed to have a team in the 1952/53 season. They were not allowed to play in the postseason the following year, going 25-0 without a chance at the National Championship. Over the next few seasons, Kentucky was a contender but did not make a serious run in the tournament. 

The 1958 Kentucky Wildcats were nicknamed “The Fiddlin’ Five,” this came when Adolph Rupp said his team was fiddle players, not violinists. Kentucky got to the Final Four in Louisville by winning the Mideast Region. Playing on their homecourt in Lexington, the Wildcats defeated Miami-Ohio 94-70 and Notre Dame 89-56.

The 24-team tournament saw Temple, Kansas State, and Seattle join Kentucky in Louisville. With Elgin Baylor leading the way, Seattle needed an 88-51 win over Wyoming in Berkley, California, to reach the Western Regionals in San Francisco. The Chieftains defeated San Francisco 69-67 and California 66-62 to get a ticket to the National Semifinals. Kansas State won the Midwest Regional in Lawrence, Kansas. In the semifinals, they beat Cincinnati 83-80, while they took down Oklahoma State 69-57 in the Elite Eight. Temple came out of the East Regional at Madison Square Garden, beating Maryland 71-67 and Dartmouth 69-50.

Kentucky faced its most challenging task in the semifinals, beating Temple 61-60. Seattle meanwhile crushed Kansas State 73-51. Coached by John Castellani, Seattle had the best player in the Nation, in Elgin Baylor. Baylor would be named the Most Outstanding Player, as the Chieftains made their first and thus far the only appearance in the Final Four. 

With Elgin Baylor leading the way, Seattle was able to forge an early 29-18 lead in the Championship Game. Baylor was battling a rib injury and scored 25 points in the title game. After holding a 39-36 lead at the half, Seattle started strong after the break extending the lead to 44-38. A short time later, Elgin Baylor was forced to the bench after committing a fourth personal foul. While Baylor sat, Kentucky gained control of the game, taking the lead for good at 61-60 midway through the second half. With Baylor unable to play aggressively on defense, the Wildcats scored 48 points in the second half, as Vernon Hatton led the way with 30 points, while Johnny Cox had 24 points and 16 rebounds. John Crigler was also big on the board with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kentucky would win the game 84-72, winning their fourth National Championship, the NCAA record at the time.