For the University of Virginia, last Saturday had a distinct aura of dèjà vu. Almost six years to the day had elapsed since an unbeaten Cavalier team, then ranked eighth in the country, had taken on No. 3 North Carolina, which had lost once, in a game that could have turned Virginia into something it had never been before—the front-runner in an Atlantic Coast Conference race. In the process, the Cavaliers might well have lost their reputation as the league's doormat. Alas, Carolina put its foot down on Virginia, 85-79.
Last week, after a 67-60 victory in their conference opener against Wake Forest, the Cavaliers were 8-0, stood 13th in one wire-service poll and 14th in the other, and again were in position to seize the edge in an ACC race—if they could defeat another once-beaten bunch of Tar Heels.
This time Virginia seemed to have a better than even chance of pulling it off. Although Carolina was ranked higher (No. 2) and has two of the best players in the country, Guard Phil Ford and Forward Mike O'Koren, the Cavaliers seemed to have better balance. Their defense, which had been tops in the ACC last season, even while they fizzled to a 2-10 league record, was still tight. Moreover, their previously punchless offense had gained a lot of wallop, partly because the principal holdovers from a team that shot .452 last year were suddenly all hitting 50% or more of their field-goal attempts, and partly because of the addition of 6'5" freshman Guard Jeff Lamp, a deadly baseline shooter from Kentucky who leads the Cavaliers in scoring with an 18.2 average.
Even the omens seemed to favor the upstarts. Carolina's loss had been to another Virginia team with a reputation for good defense, William & Mary, and the Tar Heels had needed to go into overtime in their league opener to beat Clemson. The oddsmakers took a hard look at all this, figured in the fact that the game would be played at Charlottesville and proclaimed the Cavaliers a one-point choice.
January 16, 1978
This computation neglected a couple of things. One of them was the buoying psychological effect that criticism of Carolina Coach Dean Smith by his Virginia counterpart, Terry Holland, may have had on the Tar Heels. In an article that appeared on Christmas Day in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Holland was quoted as saying, "I have a lot of respect for Dean Smith. He is very innovative. His kids project the image college kids should project.... And yet, why do I constantly read about a different person from the one I know?
"He has more technical fouls than anyone in the league, and yet he's pictured as the greatest gentleman. He works very hard at building the proper image."
Subsequently, other papers in Virginia and North Carolina ran headlines reading HOLLAND: SMITH NO GENTLEMAN. Smith says he did not talk about the Clean Dean controversy with his players, but Ford, for one, was well aware of it. "Coach Holland is a good coach, and I'm sure a lot of those things seem true to him," he said. "Maybe I'm prejudiced, but the man [Smith] I know is one of the best guys in the world."
The other thing the oddsmakers failed to anticipate was that the Tar Heels would be downright ungentlemanly in their manhandling of the Virginia defense. With almost four minutes remaining late in the first half and the score tied 29-29, Carolina took off on an amazing 24-minute shooting rampage. The Tar Heels made their last four field-goal attempts to take a 39-29 lead into the dressing room. "I told my kids at halftime that there was no way Carolina could continue to shoot so well," said Holland.
But the Tar Heels did, unbelievably firing in 16 of their 17 shots in the second half. For the game, Carolina had a .767 percentage, a school record and the second-best single-game shooting performance ever by an NCAA school.
Still, with 9:17 to go, Virginia remained in contention, trailing 55-45. It was then that Ford, who had 23 points for the night, showed that he, too, is one of the best guys in the world, at least when it comes to playing basketball. He took his first shot of the half, a jumper going to his left, and made it. He fired on four of Carolina's next five times down the floor—two jump shots and two layups—and made them all. His 10 consecutive points gave Carolina a 65-45 lead. From there the Tar Heels coasted to a 76-61 victory.
As for the Cavaliers, they had returned to their old shooting ways (38%) for this game. Afterward, Virginia Guard Bobby Stokes said that Carolina is used to being highly rated and feels no pressure from it. But how about his own team? "It's tough being unbeaten and ranked," Stokes said. "Everybody is gunning for you." So Virginia fans have now found out—twice.