One way to stop Georgetown did emerge from the Western Regional last week at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. A roadblock.
The Hoyas handled Fresno State 58-40 on Thursday and Oregon State 69-45 on Saturday as though they were pickup teams on a D.C. playground. Including their 51-43 victory over Wyoming on March 13, their two-week blitzkrieg in Utah gave them an average victory margin of 16.7 points. As Georgetown's small contingent of fans chanted before the win over Oregon State, "The Beast of the East is the Best of the West."
And perhaps the Best in America. In New Orleans the Hoyas will have the Final Four's best guard, the best bench, the best athletes and the best momentum, the latter reminiscent of Indiana's in 1981. Georgetown also has a style conducive to winning a national title. The Hoyas can run and gun to get a lead, as they did when they shot to a 24-9 advantage over Oregon State in the first 10 minutes, and they can turn on the air conditioner to protect it, as they did by going nearly eight minutes of the second half without attempting a field goal. They shot 63.6% against Fresno State and an all-time NCAA tournament record 74.4% against Oregon State. They made their first 10 shots of the second half against the Beavers. And their defense was just as good: Fresno State shot 41.0% and Oregon State finished at 38.5%. By comparison, the Beavers shot 54.0% from the floor in their 60-42 rout of Idaho in the semifinals.
So, what's to stop the Hoyas? Well, like Hannibal, they must travel great distances to get to war. During the first two rounds, played in Logan, Utah, Coach John Thompson housed his team at the Salt Lake City Hilton, 85 miles from the playing site. They remained there the following week and made the 90-mile round trip to Provo for practices and games. Georgetown's headquarters for the Final Four will put the team closer to Baton Rouge than to New Orleans. Therefore, to beat Georgetown on Saturday, all Louisville has to do is block the major routes into the city.
March 29, 1982
Hoya Paranoia is nothing new. With the Big East tournament moving to New York City next year, the coaches around the conference have already jokingly asked Thompson if he's planning to stay in Canada. No, but Delaware isn't out of the question. Thompson is quite sincere about separating his team from gamblers, reporters and other "possible influences," though the most insidious influence in Provo seemed to be Osmondism.
Thompson is a man of contradictions, and you can pack a lot of them into a 6'10", 300-pound package. Most of the press is putty in his massive hands, yet he's defensive about almost every inquiry. The ACC came up tangentially in one question put to him, and Thompson said, "First of all, I don't mention the name of that conference." Thompson won't reveal to reporters the major of any of his players—"Let them come to graduation and find out" was his comment on that subject—yet the same Thompson posed his players in mortarboards for the Georgetown press guide. He says he's only protecting freshman Pat Ewing when he limits Ewing's access to the press. But Thompson scorns reporters who express surprise that Ewing has become reasonably responsive in interviews. The evidence is that Thompson is somewhat proud of his no-nonsense reputation—"I've been called everything down to Idi Amin." He also has a penchant for contradictions: "Is it my responsibility to be fair? I might be wrong, but I can't afford to be right." Huh?
Still, Thompson is a hurricane of fresh air in the game. His players believe in him the way North Carolina's believe in Dean Smith. The Hoyas are as close-knit as any Final Four team. When little-used Guard Kurt Kaull, one of only two whites on the roster, scored a meaningless last-second field goal against Oregon State, teammates Gene Smith and Ron Blaylock, both black, ran out to embrace him. And to cut down the final strands from the net, the starters called over injured freshman Ralph Dalton and senior Manager Scott Wolf.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the Hoyas are an unselfish team. What else could they be with Thompson's demanding discipline? Everybody plays team offense and team defense, particularly Ewing.
The leader on offense is senior Guard Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, who scored 38 points at Provo and was voted the tournament's outstanding player. Two years ago in Georgetown's 81-80 loss to Iowa in the Eastern Regional final, Floyd made 11 of 14 shots from the field; he was nine of 12 against the Beavers on Saturday for a .769 percentage in regional championships. A guard can't make quicker, more graceful moves to the basket than the ones Floyd showed to close the first half on Saturday, and his outside range would make him a three-point terror in the pros. Only once could Oregon State's best defensive player, All-America Lester (the Molester) Conner, strip Floyd and go down to score.
No matter what the circumstance on the court, Floyd wears a blank expression. No matter what the circumstance on the court, Ewing wears a scowl. Though Ewing's learned to control his flying elbows, he still gripes far too often about alleged mistreatment from the opposition and officials. Without Thompson's firm hand, who knows what mayhem might have resulted from Ewing's temper this season? But he's now dominating at both ends. Against Fresno State he scored 12 of Georgetown's first 15 points in the second half to give Georgetown an eight-point lead in what had been a close game. He went to work earlier against Oregon State, dunking off his own steal for the first field goal of the game, then dunking off Freddy Brown's alley-oop pass for the Hoyas' second.
The supporting cast is strong. Sophomore Brown and senior Eric Smith are those rarest of players, 6'5" athletes who can play both point guard and strong forward. If either becomes erratic at the point, sophomore Gene Smith will calm things down for a minute. Freshmen Anthony Jones and Billy Martin would be starting on most other teams; they're effective coming off the bench to spell senior Mike Hancock at forward. And 26-year-old Ed Spriggs, slow, stoic, steady and strong, is the perfect spot replacement for the young, exuberant Ewing.
Perhaps Louisville has the roadblocks to stop Georgetown. Perhaps Ewing will meet his match in North Carolina's Sam Perkins and James Worthy, if the two teams meet as expected in the final. But to really contain this Beast of the East, the roadblocks should be placed on Interstate 10, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
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