This Date in Cardinal Hoops: 3-28-42
Disappointed as they were in the 1940 presidential election (three out of four Stanford students chose Wendell Wilkie over incumbent Franklin Roosevelt in a straw poll that fall), those same Republican-loving kids had a winner of a basketball team to follow that winter. Five all-conference players made up the ranks of the 1941 Indians, who fell a game short of reaching the NCAA Tournament. A year later, they went a few steps further.
Today, March 28th, marks the 67th anniversary of Stanford University claiming its lone national championship in men's basketball. At Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, the Pacific Coast Conference Southern Division champs (28-4) led throughout a convincing 53-38 victory over Dartmouth in the 1942 NCAA final. Little could anyone have know, it would be another 47 years before Stanford would find itself back in the tournament.
An innovative group whose size – all five starters stood at least 6-foot-3 and played center in high school – combined with speed and crafty shot-selection, Stanford scored 23 fast break points against the Ivy Leaguers. Sophomore swingman and future Stanford head coach Howie Dallmar tallied a team-high 15 points. Jack Dana collected 14 in a solid performance in place of All-American, but flu-stricken forward Jim Pollard.
"The best team I have ever coached," head coach Everett S. Dean told the Sacramento Bee years later. "For a group of big boys, they were very active, handled themselves well, covered their men and used their arms excellently. Their reactions were really fast for big men." A year after Stanford capped an unbeaten football season with a Rose Bowl victory, the Cardinal cagers beat Oregon State in a best-of-three playoff to qualify for what was at the time a decidedly low-profile NCAA bracket. Back then, the NIT owned a bigger cache over its four-year-old competitor. Just eight teams made the field, which was split into two regionals – Eastern and Western – consisting of four teams apiece. There was no actual "Final Four." A week separated the national semifinals and finals.
"I didn't even know we were No. 1," reserve Fred Linari told the San Jose Mercury-News days before Stanford reached the 1998 Final Four. "We were just having a good time."
Stanford's players were familiar local names, three having played their prep hoops at San Francisco's Lincoln High. An Oakland Tech alum and later a teammate of George Mikan with the Minneapolis Lakers, Pollard was regarded as one of the greatest players ever produced on the West Coast. He was an enormous 6-5 jump-shooting forward also known as the "Kangaroo Kid." In addition to the 6-4 Dallmar at the wing, the backcourt featured 6-3 junior Don Burness at the point and defensive whiz Bill Cowden. Ed Voss of Piedmont, also 6-5, patrolled the middle. The squad applied both man-to-man and zone defense, ran a transition game and preferred the one-handed shot perfected by Stanford hoops legend Hank Lusietti.
Four years after Lusietti's graduation, the Stanford club played before a sellout crowd of 8,200 in the Western Regional opener, beating Rice 53-47.Colorado edged hometown favorite Kansas in the nightcap. The next night, Stanford opened the game with a 19-7 run before holding off the favored Buffaloes by a 46-35 score. Pollard scored 49 points combined in the two games to help make up for the absence of Burness, who missed both because of a sprained ankle suffered in the Oregon State series. It would be his last work in the tournament however. The "Kangaroo Kid" spent the day before the final in bed and didn't dress for the game.
Wrote the Denver Post at the time "Seldom has a velvet-actioned team like Stanford been seen on the inlaid maples of this big auditorium."
The Indian team stayed in Kansas City for the extra week. The entire trip cost $22,000 at the time, about $319,000 in 2009 figures. World War II raged on with no end in sight. American and Filipino forces finally surrendered at Bataan within two weeks of the title game. All of the Indian players survived the war, Dallmar finished his college career at Penn while attending pre-flight training school in 1945. Even when Stanford arrived home to celebrate their NCAA championship, international events weighed heavily on their minds. Reserve Leo McCaffrey became a Catholic priest, serving parishes in the East Bay and Stockton before his death age 84 in 2005. "The feeling was half-and-half," he said in 1998. "Half wonderful, but half, ‘What are you going to do? What are we going to do as a country?' "
Just as they did in 1998, Stanford's fortunes in March of '42 hinged on creating favorable matchups. Dean's 1922 team at Carelton College in Minnesota featured star guard Ossie Cowles – Dartmouth's head coach 20 years later. The "Indians of the East" were in for a big headache. Dana and Linari picked up the slack in place of Burness, who played just nine minutes on the bum ankle. Dallmar was named tournament MVP for his efforts. For years to follow, more modest results counted for success. It took 46 years – the 1988 NIT berth secured in Mike Montgomery's third season on The Farm – for the next postseason appearance.
Dallmar, who along with Burnett, Cowden, Pollard and Voss, is a member of the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame, admirably held the Stanford Basketball head coaching post for 21 years, going .500 (254-254) from 1954 to his retirement in 1975. While Dallmar's 1963 group would share a conference title, high times were rare for Cardinal hoops after the war. In the 40 seasons that preceded Montgomery's 1986 hiring, Cardinal hoops would painfully suffer through 27 losing campaigns.
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