A Historic Victory
Even though Kentucky was an overwhelming favorite to win the 1966 title game, West Texas State head coach Jimmy Viramontes cautioned the prognosticators after witnessing the Miners' 85-78 semifinal win over Utah. Viramontes said, "Kentucky can't play TW man for man. They have no player who can stay with Bobby Joe Hill."
Kentucky was an eight-point favorite heading into the championship game.
Don Haskins decided to start three guards (Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis and Willie Worsley), along with David Lattin and Harry Flournoy, to counteract Kentucky's zone and speed.
Adolph Rupp called his 1965-66 Kentucky team his finest shooting team ever, but the Wildcats shot just 38.6 percent from the floor in the title game compared to 49 percent the rest of the season.
Kentucky's last lead of the game was 9-8 with 12:24 remaining in the first half. After the Miners went ahead 10-9, Hill stole the ball from the Wildcats' Tommy Kron and drove in for an uncontested layup. Hill stole the ball from Louis Dampier on the next possession and scored again. Hill's two steals were viewed as the turning point of the game by Rupp.
Texas Western's win marked the third time in seven years that the team rated third nationally won the title.
The Miners ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense in 1965-66 (62.7 ppg), and 10th in scoring margin (+15.2 ppg). Texas Western was first in the country in rebound percentage (.577).
An estimated 10,000 fans greeted the national champions at the airport when they returned to El Paso. The motorcade caused a traffic jam, which police said was the worst they had seen in El Paso.
Nine of the 12 players on the championship team graduated.
1966 CHAMPIONS QUOTEBOOK
"I remember one of those practices as clear as if it was yesterday. Coach Haskins called us together and said we were one of the worst teams he'd ever seen. He said we'd really struggle to beat anybody. I kind of leaned out, looked down the line and we did look a little puny." --Junior center Nevil Shed
"If we play tomorrow like we played tonight, Kentucky will run us right off the floor." -- Don Haskins, after Texas Western College beat Utah in the NCAA semifinals
"We don't worry about that kind of talk. We played a lot of good teams before we got here. We played a lot of teams like ourselves...ones without a name."-- Haskins, responding to media who criticized the Miners' schedule
"It's quite a thrill for me, a kind of young punk. It's great just playing in a game with Mr. Rupp, let alone winning it." -- Haskins, after Texas Western College defeated Kentucky
"We weren't shooting well and our ball handling wasn't good. When those two things break down, you're in trouble." -- Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, after Texas Western's 72-65 win for the championship
"It was one of the finest defensive games we played all season. The boys knew Kentucky could shoot exceptionally well and that if they didn't play a fine defensive game, they would wind up second." -- Haskins, on his team's performance in the championship game
"It wasn't even as close as the score indicates. At one point we led by 17. Our easiest games in that tournament were the first one, against Oklahoma City, and the last one, against Kentucky." -- Senior guard Orsten Artis, on the Kentucky game
"It was clear from the start that we were quicker than they were." -- Junior guard Bobby Joe Hill
"I hadn't thought of it as putting an all-black team on the court. I was simply playing the best players I had. It's what I had done all year. Then we came home, and the hate mail started pouring in. Thousands of letters, from all over the south." -- Haskins
"We used to drink wine in the dorm together because we didn't have the money to go out. We used to play a lot of cards. It was friendship, pure friendship. I don't remember a single instance of race being an issue or a problem among us." -- Sophomore guard David Palacio, on the team's chemistry
"It was more about young guys trying to prove who was the better team, not to prove who was the better color." -- Sophomore guard Willie Worsley
"When he came to the Lakers, Bob McAdoo told me how much the game meant, how it changed everything, how it opened up the world for black kids in the South. I guess I never really thought of it that way, that we were such a big part of history. The loss remains. I've never felt emptier. It was the worst night of my basketball life, but I'm proud to have taken part in something that changed so many other people's lives." -- Pat Riley, who played for Kentucky in the 1966 title game