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Wisconsin scores monumental upset to win 1941 National Championship

1941 NCAA Tournament
Game Photo
Wisconsin Wisconsin 39Washington State 34
Municipal Auditorium • Kansas City, Mo. • Attendance: 9,350

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Washington State


1st 2nd Final
Washington State 17 17 34
21 18 39
 Statistical Leaders
 • Gene Englund: 13 Pts, 5-12 FG, 3-3 FT
 • John Kotz: 12 Pts, 5-22 FG, 2-3 FT
 • Epperson/Rehm: 4 Pts each
 Stats at a Glance
 Field Goals 16-67 14-63
 FG Percentage .239 .222
 Free Throws 7-9 6-11
 FT Percentage .778 .545
 Fouls 12 8
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March 29, 1941

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Using a game plan filled with patience, defense and fundamentals, Wisconsin pulled off one of the season's biggest upsets, knocking off prohibitive favorite Washington State, 39-34, in the championship game of the 1941 NCAA Tournament.

The Badgers' first NCAA national championship capped off an improbable run as UW rattled off 15 consecutive wins to end the season.

Of the 15 straight wins, none was more memorable than the title game at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. A column in the Kansas City Star the morning of the game read, "Don't go Cougar-hunting with a Badger."

"Reading the newspapers, it was as though we were only going to Kansas City for the train ride," Gene Englund said. "That riled me up."

 Fast Facts
• UW finishes the season with 15 straight wins
• Badgers John Kotz named tournament MVP
• UW holds WSU scorer Paul Lindeman to 3 pts

Englund, a 6-4 center and team captain, would respond with a team-high 13 points. Sophomore John Kotz earned tournament MVP honors after scoring 12 points, his third double-figure game of the tournament.

It was clear from the opening possessions that this would be Wisconsin's night. Defensive specialist Fred Rehm converted contested baskets on each of UW's first two trips down the court -- his only 4 points of the game -- to give the Badgers a surprising 4-0 start.

The Cougars would answer back to lead 10-8 and 12-9, but the Badgers rallied to take a 13-12 lead on a pair of baskets by Kotz and never trailed again. Wisconsin's lead would grow to 21-17 at the half.

Kirk Gebert would score Washington State's first three field goals in the second period to help the Cougars pull even at 24-24, but free throws by Kotz and Ted Strain and baskets by Englund and Charles Epperson gave the Badgers a comfortable 30-24 lead.

Gebert, who finished with a game-high 21 points, pitched in three more field goals to help the Cougars narrow the margin to 34-32. But the Badgers nailed down the title on a field goal by Kotz and a free throw by Strain.

Wisconsin's defensive game plan included double-teaming WSU's leading scorer Paul Lindeman in the post. The strategy worked as the Badgers held the Cougars 6-7, 230-pound star to just 3 points on 0-for-5 shooting.

The Badgers conceded the outside shot while limiting any inside touches. That resulted in the Cougars shooting just 22.2 percent (14-63) from field. Wisconsin held Washington State scoreless for nine minutes in the first half and for another five minute stretch in the second half.

"If you wanted to play for Bud Foster, you had to play defense," Kotz would later say.

"Everybody knew his part, and performed it," Englund added. "I was very happy to be associated with those guys, to be a part of that team."

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