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Morris Taft, who helped UCLA win its first NCAA basketball tournament game, dies at 84

Morris Taft, a guard under UCLA basketball coach John Wooden from 1954 to 1956 who helped the Bruins win their first NCAA Tournament game, has died. He was 84.

The school said Taft died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles after a lengthy illness.

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He helped lead the Bruins to a 61-18 record during his three seasons, averaging in double figures his last two.

As a senior in 1955-56, Taft helped the Bruins win their first NCAA Tournament game, beating Seattle, 94-70, in a consolation game after they lost to San Francisco and future Hall of Famer Bill Russell in the opening round. Earlier that season, UCLA had lost to Russell and the Dons at the ECAC Holiday Festival in New York.

The Bruins opened that season with a 4-5 non-conference record before cruising through their Pacific Coast Conference schedule with a 16-0 record to finish first. They didn't have a home court, so the Bruins traveled between three different locations to play.

As a senior, Taft averaged 17.3 points, second best on the team. He averaged 12.6 points as a junior, and was a starter his last two seasons. He was named first-team All-PCC in 1956.

As a sophomore playing on the varsity, Taft helped the Bruins beat Russell's San Francisco team, 47-40.Taft was chosen 56th overall in the 1956 NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks, now in Atlanta, but he never played in the league.

After college, Taft worked as an insurance agent for Equitable Life, often selling policies to other athletes and professionals. He is survived by his three children, Paula, Monisa and Morris Jr., and two grandchildren.

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