The accomplishments of Bill Bradley ’65 in three years as a Princeton basketball player were certainly legendary. But the greatest Princeton basketball accomplishment in Bradley’s career was Princeton’s inspired 1965 run to the NCAA Final Four.
First, the Tigers blitzed through their last 10 regular-season games to take the Ivy title with a 13-1 record. Then, the Ivy champs squeaked by Penn State in the NCAA first round at The Palestra, 60-58, to advance to the following weekend’s East Regional at Maryland’s Cole Field House.
From there, Bradley and Princeton put on two basketball exhibitions. The first was a 66-48 win over N.C. State in the regional semifinal that put the Tigers in the regional final against Providence, which had defeated St. Joseph’s in the other regional semifinal.
The next day, March 13, 1965, the Tigers took it one step further against the Friars. Bradley made 14 of his 20 field-goal attempts, and all 13 of his free throws, to score 41 points. Princeton shot 68% from the field and went more than 12 minutes in the second half without missing a shot. The final score was 109-69 Princeton, with the 109 points breaking a school record that had just been set two weeks earlier in a win against Cornell.
Princeton, which never once had made the Associated Press national rankings during the season, suddenly became the story of the tournament after the 40-point win against the No. 4-ranked Friars. The Tigers were also the first Ivy League team to advance to the semifinals in 21 seasons.
The reward for the Tigers was a national semifinal matchup in Portland, Ore., against Michigan, the consensus No. 1-ranked team in the nation and the NCAA championship favorite. The Wolverines’ Cazzie Russell was simply too much for the Tigers to handle in the semifinal, and Michigan advanced to the final with a 93-76 victory.
So the Tigers’ inspired run wouldn’t end in a national championship. Still, for both Bradley and his team, it would end with a record-setting performance in the consolation game against No. 10-ranked Wichita State the next day.
Bradley made 22 of 29 shots and 14 of 15 free throws for a school-record 58 points, still the most in a Final Four game. He also had a game-high 17 rebounds. The Tigers made a school-record 48 field goals as a team and scored 65 points in the second half. The result was a dominating 118-82 win over the Shockers that gave the Tigers a national third-place finish.
Bradley’s 177 points in five NCAA tournament games was a record that lasted for 24 seasons, and his 58 points still trails only Notre Dame’s Austin Carr for the best single-game scoring performance in tournament history.