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Recalling Buckeyes’ Last Final Four

March 24, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Fred Taylor coached Ohio State to the national championship game in 1960, 1961 and 1962, winning an NCAA title in 1960 in his very first season as a head coach.

However, some whispered it didn’t take much coaching, considering how the Buckeyes had Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek in the lineup. Couldn’t just about anybody with a whistle scribble enough Xs and Os for that team to win 30 games?

But when Taylor guided Ohio State back to the Final Four in 1968 without a marquee player, the doubts ended.

``We always kidded coach Taylor that that team put him in the Hall of Fame,″ said Bill Hosket, captain of the ’68 team. ``When you have Lucas and Havlicek, you’re expected to go to the NCAA tournament. But to get there with four centers and Denny Meadors _ that showed he could coach.″

Those unranked and unknown Buckeyes are much like the current Ohio State team. This year’s Buckeyes will end Ohio State’s 31-year Final Four drought when they take on Connecticut on Saturday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.

``We’ve got a lot in common,″ Hosket said, comparing the ’68 and ’99 Buckeyes. ``We both were sort of unexpected visitors to the Final Four, we both had great chemistry and we both were well coached. Just like the current team, we just exceeded everybody’s expectations.″

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

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 23-team NCAA field, 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.

Next, the Buckeyes had to play Dan Issel and Kentucky _ which was hosting the Mideast Regional on its home floor in Lexington.

However, Sorenson took an inbounds pass from Hosket and banked in a short jumper with three second left to give Ohio State a stunning 82-81 victory.

``It was kind of silent,″ Swain said of the response from the Wildcats’ partisan crowd. ``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 _ and changed Swain’s travel plans.

``I was also on the baseball team,″ said Swain, who now sells school rings in the Cleveland area. ``I had a plane ticket to go to Florida for spring training with the team. I was more than happy to go to Columbus and then on to L.A.″

Houston had Elvin Hayes, who had 39 points and 15 rebounds in January as the Cougars beat UCLA and coach John Wooden before 52,693 fans at the Astrodome. Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was no match for Hayes with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

The second NCAA semifinal was Round 2 of Houston and UCLA, No. 1 vs. No. 2.

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

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 North Carolina’s 80-66 victory.

UCLA then routed Houston 101-69. Alcindor had 19 points and 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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