1938–39 Oregon Webfoots men's basketball team
|1938–39 Oregon Webfoots men's basketball|
NCAA National Champions
|Conference||Pacific Coast Conference North|
|1938–39 record||29–5 (14–2 PCC)|
|Head coach||Howard Hobson|
|Home arena||McArthur Court|
The 1938–39 Oregon Webfoots men's basketball team was a Division I college basketball team that represented the University of Oregon. The Webfoots,[n 1] coached by Howard Hobson, played in the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) and compiled a 29–5 won–loss record in regular and postseason competition. After winning the PCC title, they became the champions of the inaugural NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament.
The 1938–39 Webfoots were coming off a season in which they posted a win–loss record of 14–6 in Pacific Coast Conference play. In the conference's North division, the Webfoots won the title by a one-game margin over Washington. Oregon advanced to the best-of-three PCC championship series, but lost two consecutive games to Stanford that ended its hopes of being crowned the conference's champion.
Newspaper editor L. H. Gregory called the Oregon team the "Tall Firs" due to the height of the team's players, since Oregon was taller than most other teams of the era. Three Oregon players were named to the All-America team following the season: 6'8" center Slim Wintermute, 6'4" forward Lauren Gale, and 5'8" guard Bobby Anet. Other players on the team included 6'4" forward John H. Dick and 5'11" guard Wally Johansen. Ford Mullen, a future Major League Baseball player, was a backup guard on the team. Oregon's entire starting lineup returned from its 1937–38 team, which had lost a conference championship playoff to Stanford. Also returning was their head coach, Howard Hobson, who was in his fourth season on the job.
Oregon's preferred offensive game plan was to play an attacking fast break style of basketball. In response, opposing teams with shorter players often played a slower-paced offense; as a result, Hobson wound up supporting a shot clock in college basketball. On defense, the team switched between zone and man-to-man styles depending on how its opponent played.
|Bobby Anet||20||Guard||5–8||Senior||Astoria, OR|
|John Dick||18||Forward||6–4||Junior||The Dalles, OR|
|Lauren Gale||28||Forward||6–4||Senior||Oakridge, OR|
|Bob Hardy||40||Forward||6–3||Senior||Ashland, OR|
|Wally Johansen||32||Guard||5–11||Senior||Astoria, OR|
|Red McNeely||15||Guard||6–2||Sophomore||Astoria, OR|
|Ford Mullen||13||Guard||5–8||Junior||Olympia, WA|
|Matt Pavalunas||11||Guard||6–0||Junior||Raymond, WA|
|Earl Sandness||36||Center||6–4||Sophomore||Astoria, OR|
|Ted Sarpola||25||Forward||6–2||Junior||Astoria, OR|
|Slim Wintermute||22||Center||6–8||Senior||Longview, WA|
The Webfoots began the 1938–39 season by defeating Portland 51–24 on November 29, 1938. Oregon's second game was also against a team based in Portland, which represented the Multnomah Athletic Club. The Webfoots won by an 83–25 final score. The team then recorded victories against Signal Oil and Pacific Packards by at least 12 points each. Following those games, the Webfoots embarked on a long trip through the Eastern United States; they were the first college basketball team from the West Coast to do so. The first game of the trip came in December at New York City's Madison Square Garden against City College of New York (CCNY). Oregon had a poor start to the game; according to the Sporting News, the team was "confused by officials' interpretation of legal and illegal screens to the moving picks set by City College of New York." Despite a comeback attempt late in the game by Oregon, CCNY won 38–36 to hand Oregon its first loss of the season. The trip continued with stops in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia, among other locations. The Webfoots went 6–1 in the seven games following the CCNY loss; their only loss in that stretch came against Bradley. The final game of the road trip, held in San Francisco on New Year's Eve, saw the Webfoots lose to Stanford.
At the beginning of 1939, the Webfoots began its PCC schedule with consecutive home games against Washington State, winning the first and losing the second. Oregon then began a 10-game winning streak, their longest since the start of the 1937–38 season. Idaho lost four times to Oregon during the streak, and Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State were defeated twice each. On February 18, the Webfoots' streak ended with a 50–31 loss to Oregon State, which would be their last of the season. Six days later, Oregon posted a 48–37 win over the Beavers. On March 3 and 4, Oregon defeated Washington for the third and fourth times that season, respectively, of the Huskies' five losses, all but one was against the Webfoots. By the end of the regular season, Oregon had won the PCC North Division with a 14–2 conference record, and had a 24–5 record overall.
By winning the PCC North Division, Oregon earned the right to play the winner of the South Division, California, in a best-of-three playoff series. The series was held at McArthur Court, the Webfoots' home arena. In addition to the PCC championship, the winner would gain a berth in the first NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, which the National Association of Basketball Coaches would run. The first game was won by the Webfoots, 54–40; more than half of Oregon's points were scored by Gale and Wintermute, who had 18 and 11 respectively. Oregon clinched a two-game sweep with a 53–47 victory in the second game; Dick and Wintermute contributed 16 points apiece.
Oregon advanced to the NCAA Tournament's West Regional, which was held on March 20 and 21 in San Francisco. First, Oregon defeated Texas in the first round by a score of 56–41. Wintermute had 14 points in the game, and Dick added 13. In the regional final against Oklahoma, Dick had 14 points and Gale and Wintermute scored 11 and 10, respectively. Oregon advanced to the national championship game with a 55–37 victory. The title game was held on March 27 in Northwestern University's Patten Gymnasium. Oregon's opponent was Ohio State, who had won the East Regional by winning against Wake Forest and Villanova.
Oregon took advantage of the Buckeyes' defense, which was designed to stop Gale and Wintermute, by using Gale as "a decoy", in his words. This created an opportunity for contributions from the Webfoots' other players, including Dick, who led both teams by scoring 15 points. On Ohio State's offensive possessions, the Webfoots used a match-up zone defense, which held the Buckeyes' field goal percentage to 17 percent for the game. The Webfoots held a five-point lead at halftime, and pulled away in the second half to win the national championship, 46–33. Afterward came what Dick termed "a two-handed trophy presentation"; during the game, Anet had broken a figure off the top of the championship trophy while attempting to gain possession of the ball by the sideline.
At the end of the season, Anet, Gale, and Wintermute were selected as All-Americans. Hobson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1965, and Gale followed him into the Hall 12 years later. The entire 1938–39 Oregon team has been enshrined in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, and Anet, Dick, Gale, Hobson, Johansen, and Wintermute were inducted as individuals. The University of Oregon Athletic Hall of Fame selected the team and Hobson as part of its inaugural class of inductees in 1992. Dick and Gale (1993), Wintermute (1994), and Anet and Johansen (1996) were also inducted in later years. All five of the team's starters have had their numbers retired by the university.
- The team had been nicknamed the Ducks, the University of Oregon's modern name for its athletic programs, by members of the press. That nickname was unofficial, however, and the team was officially called the Webfoots.
- Frei, pp. 6, 17.
- Frei, pp. 37–39.
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- Frei, p. 58.
- 2009–10 Oregon Men's Basketball Media Guide, p. 111.
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- 2009–10 Oregon Men's Basketball Media Guide, pp. 95, 111.
- 2009–10 Oregon Men's Basketball Media Guide, p. 95.
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- 2009–10 Oregon Men's Basketball Media Guide. University of Oregon. 2009. pp. 79–136.
- ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men's Game. Random House. 2009. ISBN 0-345-51392-4.
- Blakely, Joe (2004). The Tall Firs: The story of the University of Oregon & the first NCAA basketball championship. Bear Creek Press. ISBN 1-930111-40-1.
- Frei, Terry (2014). March 1939: Before the Madness: The Story of the First NCAA Basketball Tournament Champions. Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58979-924-0.