By Jim O’Neal
The “Big O” Oscar Robertson had a remarkable record during the three years he played for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. He set a bevy of NCAA scoring records, including most career points (2,973), most field goals (1,052), most free throws (869) and the highest average per game (33.8).
One thing that eluded him (and UC) was a national championship, although they did make the Final Four in 1959 and 1960.
Oscar Palmer Robertson from Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis (the losing team in the 1986 movie Hoosiers) went on to the NBA and set a record that still stands. In 1961-62, he averaged a triple double for the entire season, with 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists!
So it seemed unlikely that in 1961 the Cincinnati Bearcats (without their star) could accomplish something they had been unable to do when he played on the team. However, that year, with an undefeated team at Ohio State ranked No. 1, the Bearcats upset Utah in the semifinals and were suddenly up against Ohio State and their 34-game win streak for the national championship.
As the final buzzer sounded, the two teams were tied at 61-61. In overtime, Cincinnati took command and outscored the Buckeyes 9 to 4. A shell-shocked Ohio State team from Columbus had been upset by their unfriendly neighbors from Cincinnati!
Then in 1962, for the first time in history, the same two teams met again to decide the national championship. They both had something to prove as Ohio State was determined to prevent another upset, while the Cincinnati team wanted to show their championship was not a fluke.
Again, Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the nation, while Cincinnati did not look as strong, despite the play of star center Paul Hogue. Also, this was UCLA’s first ever appearance in the Final Four and they provided a glimpse of what was coming very soon.
With three seconds to go in the semifinals and the game tied at 70, Cincinnati’s Tom Thacker drained a desperation jumper. Final score, UC 72-UCLA 70.
So once again it was the two great Ohio teams battling for the national championship and Cincinnati prevailed again for the second year in a row – 71 to 59.
Cincinnati would make it back to the championship again in 1963, but this time as the tournament favorite after an undefeated season. Most thought they were a shoo-in for an unprecedented third consecutive national championship. However, it was not to be as they lost to the Loyola Ramblers in overtime, 60-58, and the dominance of the Ohio teams ended as well.
UCLA was lurking on the sidelines and poised to win 10 of the next 12 championships, including the never-to-be-matched seven in a row.
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].