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Recalling Buckeyes’ Last Final Four

March 23, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Thirty-one years later, and Mike Swain still can’t forget it.

Ohio State was playing Kentucky in Lexington in an NCAA regional final. The Wildcats in 1968 were led by Dan Issel, but this was Ohio State’s day.

Dave Sorenson took an inbounds pass and banked in a short jumper with three seconds left, giving the Buckeyes an 82-81 victory.

``It was kind of silent,″ said Swain, a reserve on that team. ``A kid who had been on the team, Darrell Brautigam, put me up on his shoulders so we could go out and cut the nets down. But a cop came out and said to get away from them. They wouldn’t even let us cut their nets down in Kentucky.″

That victory vaulted the Buckeyes into a killer Final Four that featured No. 1 Houston, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 North Carolina. It was the last time Ohio State played in a Final Four until this weekend when the Buckeyes meet Connecticut on Saturday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Houston and Elvin Hayes had outdueled coach John Wooden’s Lew Alcindor-led Bruins earlier in the season before 52,693 fans at the Astrodome. Elvin Hayes scored 39 points and had 15 rebounds and outplayed UCLA’s Lew Alcindor. Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Houston and UCLA met again in another showdown in the semifinals.

``We played North Carolina in the first game and it was sort of like a junior varsity game,″ Ohio State captain Bill Hosket said. ``Everybody wanted the rematch. And the tournament was in L.A., so it was a huge event.″

Fred Taylor had coached Ohio State to three consecutive NCAA championship games, from 1960-62. Those teams were led by Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Mel Nowell.

When Taylor made it back to the national semifinals six years later, the unranked and unknown Buckeyes didn’t have a marquee player. They had come out of nowhere, much like the current team, which was last in the Big Ten a year ago.

The 1968 Buckeyes featured the 6-foot-7 Hosket, 6-7 Sorenson, burly 6-5 Steve Howell and 6-3 Jody Finney, along with point guard Denny Meadors. Off the bench came Swain, Ed Smith, Bruce Schnabel, Jim Geddes, Dan Andreas and Craig Barkley.

``We always kidded coach Taylor that that team put him in the Hall of Fame,″ Hosket said. ``When you have Lucas and Havlicek, you’re expected to go to the NCAA tournament. But to get there with four centers and Meadors _ that showed he could coach.″

The freshmen team, in the days when freshmen weren’t eligible to play four seasons, actually had more stars. It included future NBA player Jim Cleamons along with a guard named Rex Kern, who would quarterback Ohio State to the national championship in football later that year.

The Buckeyes tied Iowa for the Big Ten title, but since the conference could send only one representative to the NCAA tournament, Ohio State met the Hawkeyes in a playoff game in West Lafayette, Ind. Ohio State won 85-81 and then edged East Tennessee 79-72 in the regional semifinal before stunning Kentucky.

North Carolina featured Charlie Scott and Larry Miller and was coached by Dean Smith. The Tar Heels pressed the slower Buckeyes, built an early lead and were never threatened. Miller had 20 points and Bill Bunting 17 points in the 80-66 North Carolina victory.

In the main event, UCLA avenged its only loss, routing Houston 101-69. Alcindor scored 19 points and had 18 rebounds while holding Hayes to 10 points and five rebounds. Houston was playing without starting point guard George Reynolds because the NCAA did not then permit junior-college transfers to play in the tournament.

In the championship game, the Bruins rolled over North Carolina 78-55 for their fourth title in five years and second in a string of seven in a row under Wooden.

The championship game then was preceded by a consolation game between the semifinal losers. Houston, which came into the Final Four 31-0 and ranked No. 1, ended with back-to-back losses.

Ohio State downed the Cougars 89-85 behind Howell’s 26 points and 13 rebounds. Sorenson had 19 points and Hosket 19 points and 17 rebounds. Hayes was back in form with 34 points and 16 rebounds, but still ended his college career on a down note.

``The highlight of that tournament for me was beating Kentucky on its home floor, and then beating Houston to feel like we belonged,″ Hosket said.

``Those are great memories. I just told someone the other night that these kids on this year’s Ohio State team are creating their own memories now. Regardless of what happens from now on, they’ll have these memories the rest of their lives.″

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