Seattle University basketball first gained national attention in 1952 when the Chieftains, led by twins Eddie and Johnny O’Brien, defeated the Harlem Globetrotters.
The sports moment judged the greatest in school history starred another basketball player.
Elgin Baylor made what SU calls the greatest play in school history. He gave SU a 69-67 victory against San Francisco in the 1958 NCAA Tournament, which launched the Chieftains (now Redhawks) to the Final Four.
They lost to Kentucky 84-72 in the championship game after Baylor was injured in a victory against Kansas State in the national semifinals. He was still named the tournament’s most outstanding player, and the win against USF started Seattle’s roll.
Seattle University Athletics told the story:
On March 14, 1958, the Seattle University All-America player and his teammates were playing the third-ranked University of San Francisco Dons in San Francisco’s Cow Palace, an extra-tough assignment no matter how it was handled. A crowd of 16,382 stood and screamed for the Bay Area team to pull this one out.
Baylor dribbled and considered his options. The forward paused halfway between the midcourt line and the top of the key, still bouncing the ball. USF waited for him to come closer. Instead, Baylor all of a sudden rose up and gracefully swished in a stunning 30-foot shot as if it was a 15-footer, and the buzzer went off. The Chieftains had stolen away with an improbable 69-67 upset.
“I was watching the clock, and I started counting down in my head,” Baylor said. “They set up their defense not to let me drive. In the Cow Palace, against USF, I thought, ‘If I’m going to go to the basket and I got fouled, am I going to get the call?'”
Baylor made the right decision: His game-winning jumper — for all the postseason implications and the degree of difficulty involved — still ranks as the single greatest play in school history.
The Dons were 25-1 when they took on SU, seeking a fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four (two ending in Bill Russell-led national titles) and were heavily favored over Baylor and friends.
“We could never beat USF,” SU head coach John Castellani said. “It was just a kind of game where it was anybody’s game. We just lucked out in the end. If that shot doesn’t go in, we go into overtime and who knows what would have happened. The San Francisco game was a big one. As good as we were, not a lot of people expected us to win that one.”
The final play began with 11 seconds after an SU timeout. Guard Jim Harney inbounded to “Sweet” Charlie Brown, who dribbled a few times before giving it up to Baylor. With no replay immediately available, newspaper accounts stretched the truth some on the shot, describing it as a 40-footer. It was long, but closer to 30.
“I don’t know how far out it was,” Baylor said. “I know the play was set up for me to take the last shot. It was either take it to the basket or shoot it. My thing was to run the clock down so they couldn’t take the last shot. I go nuts when there’s eight to 10 seconds left and a guy takes a shot.”
In this case, everyone else went nuts.
On the cover and above: Elgin Baylor leads Seattle University past San Francisco in the 1958 NCAA Tournament. (Courtesy Seattle University Athletics)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Saint Louis and Samford
• Tuesday: Sam Houston State and Seattle
• Wednesday: South Florida and Southeast Missouri State
• Thursday: Southeastern Louisiana and SIU Edwardsville
• Friday: SMU and Southern Mississippi