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Today in Sports History: 3/23 – North Carolina Beats Kansas in NCAA Championship

Today in sports history (1957), the North Carolina Tar Heels won their first NCAA Tournament Championship. The championship was one of the greatest in history, as the Tar Heels won by one point in overtime.

This game featured incredible talent, with Lennie Rosenbluth leading UNC and head coach Frank McGuire. Kansas was led by Wilt Chamberlain. Dick Harp was patrolling the sidelines in his first season as head coach of the Jayhawks. Kansas started the season as the favored champion, due in part to Chamberlain. North Carolina basketball came into the game undefeated, looking to complete an undefeated season, while Kansas came in with two losses. Chamberlain alone was enough to have sportsbooks make Kansas three-point favorites.

North Carolina Kansas Championship
Credit: University of Kansas Archive

North Carolina Opens Up 1957 NCAA Tournament With a Strong First Half

In a funny sight, the opening tip occurred between Kansas’ Chamberlain, who was seven feet tall, and UNC’s Tommy Kearns, who wasn’t even six feet tall. In an effort to limit Chamberlain, McGuire employed a 2-3 defense. The Jayhawks found little success early in trying to out-duel the zone. When UNC was on offense, Kansas ran a box-and-1 to help limit Rosenbluth’s success.

The Tar Heels took an early lead when they started to hit perimeter jump shots. The combination of made jump shots and the zone defense allowed North Carolina basketball to jump out to an 11-4 lead. This led to Kansas changing to a 2-3 defense, with Chamberlain under the hoop. Rosenbluth immediately made Kansas change back to box-and-1 as he made a tough jumper over Chamberlain. Harp once again continued to throw exotic defenses at North Carolina, changing to man defense on the next defensive possession.

After a Kearns basket, Kansas’ defense stepped up, holding North Carolina basketball scoreless for two minutes. The end of the first half continued as the beginning of the game, UNC controlling the tempo, with Kansas rushing to get Chamberlain the ball. North Carolina went into the half up 29-22.

North Carolina Basketball Closes Out NCAA Tournament in OT

Kansas eventually cut the lead to one, 31-30, after a Chamberlain takeover. On the flip side from the first half, Kansas was starting to make outside jump shots, while North Carolina was unable to score. The Jayhawks took the lead with nine minutes left in the game. The Jayhawks then stalled. They did not let North Carolina score for five minutes. Rosenbluth fouled out of the game with 1:45 left. Carolina tied the game with a free throw in crunch time.

In overtime, both teams traded baskets and turnovers. With the game tied at 52, Kansas made one free throw. UNC made two free throws with six seconds left to give them a 54-53 lead. In a Kansas last-second attempt, a pass into Chamberlain went short and the Tar Heels were able to run the clock out. This completed the Tar Heels perfect season, as well as started them on their path to be one of the best basketball programs in the country.

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