It is a simple exchange of positions—one man posting up inside, the other vacating the area to clear out the riffraff, a maneuver contrived long before Dean Smith became the resident genius at Chapel Hill. But in the North Carolina design the strategy inspires terror simply because of the two gifted players who work it. Before thundering into Raleigh's Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday, the Tar Heels had won 29 games. In the East Regional finals they won No. 30 by defeating Villanova 70-60 and thus became the first team since UCLA in 1976 to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament two years in a row.
Working in tandem, James Worthy and Sam Perkins doubled their pleasure and doubled their fun, but they weren't the whole story. In fact, Carolina Point Guard Jimmy Black may have been just as valuable with his 11 points, 10 assists and the way he shut down the wild excursions of his Villanova counterpart, Stewart Granger (2-for-8 shooting and passes that barely stayed in the building). But just the presence of Perkins and Worthy, the regional MVP, seemed to turn the game to Carolina.
Consider Villanova Coach Rollie (as in Raleigh) Massimino and poor John (the Bear) Pinone. Rollie was coaching like the dickens and the Bear was playing his considerable heart out in the suffocating heat of the Coliseum, and the Wildcats, relying on their multiple zones, were behind only 41-36 with a little more than 10 minutes to play. But then Carolina came out in its spread-court delay game, and now Villanova couldn't get the rest it desperately needed. The 'Cats and the Bear had to chase. At 9:08, Worthy spun around Pinone for a bucket. At 7:37, Perkins jump-hooked over Pinone for another.
In between these plays the exhausted Pinone and his cohort inside, Ed Pinckney, were drawn outside, so the Tar Heels' Matt Doherty cut back-door from the corner for a three-point play. "They're so well trained," said Pinone. "Not only great players but smart players. That makes it all the more difficult to guard them."
If that sequence wasn't enough to discourage faltering Villanova, the Tar Heels at one stretch made 10 field goals without a miss. Pinone and Pinckney never gave up—their points-rebounds figures exceeded those of Worthy and Perkins 32 and 16 to 27 and 12—but Massimino recognized superiority.
"A wonderful team, a clean team, maybe the best team," he said of North Carolina.
Black was asked what the green button he was wearing on his uniform trunks said. "New Orleans. Welcome to the Final Four," he said. "I'm really happy about this. I've never been twice in a row."
Villanova was hoping to gain a little prestige by going once in a row. Their 23 pre-Raleigh victories and regular-season Big East championship had gone virtually unnoticed, mainly because of three straight losses to Georgetown.
Before Villanova's 70-66 overtime defeat of Memphis State, Massimino pumped up Pinckney, his 6'9½" freshman forward, vis-√†-vis Keith Lee, the Tigers' 6'10" freshman forward. "All we heard was Lee, Lee, Lee," Massimino said. "I told Eddie the only difference between him and Keith is that Keith's better. That got him." What Pinckney got next were 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, most of the latter after Lee had gone to the bench with four fouls.
In truth, the Wildcats' aggressive mix-master zones and traps—Forward Aaron Howard at the controls—prevented Lee from creating scoring opportunities, and Villanova seemed in command even as Memphis State stayed close during the 12:04 Lee sat in the second half. When Lee, whose curly, processed hair recalls Jimi Hendrix in full cry, had concluded his riff (14 points, four rebounds) and fouled out at 4:58 and the 'Cats ahead 58-57, it was Villanova's game.
Regulation ended at 62-all as Memphis State's Otis Jackson threw up a 30-foot rainbow that Villanova's Granger didn't even bother defending. The rainbow rimmed out of the pot.
With the score 66-66 and 26 seconds remaining in overtime, Pinone was fouled while rebounding. He converted the clutch one-and-one for the last of his game-high 19 points and a lead Villanova never relinquished.
Foul calls also had much to do with Carolina's hard-earned 74-69 defeat of Alabama in its semi. Tide fouls were nearly double (27-14) those of the home, read near-home, team. "Just part of the game," Smith said. The Tar Heel coach had warned his players about 'Bama's rebounding prowess, so in the first half Carolina muscled to a 17-8 board edge on the way to a 31-26 lead. Alabama's Eddie Phillips scored 12 points off Worthy but he didn't bring down a single rebound before intermission. Worthy combined with Perkins for 31 points and 13 rebounds. "They were bumpy inside," said Worthy. "Not physical. Just bumpy."
Speaking of shutouts, Black nearly wove a defensive beauty of his own in the second half, holding 'Bama's freshman point guard leader, Ennis Whatley, to l-for-7 shooting. By the time the Tar Heels had forged a 63-55 lead off Smith's inevitable spread delay with 5:30 remaining in the game, the 'Bama front line was all but depleted. Both Phillips and Philip Lockett had fouled out, and Bobby Lee Hurt soon joined the exodus. Worthy used the occasion to frolic—between-the-legs dribbles, overhead passing assists—in the lane, on the wing or anywhere else in Raleigh he wanted to go. "We couldn't keep the ball off him," said Tide Coach Wimp Sanderson, who could only cringe as Carolina swished 26 of 31 free throws.
On the way to the press room Smith greeted Sanderson cordially, "Hey, if Phillips doesn't foul out...."
"I didn't alibi about it, Dean," Sanderson said. "You guys were great."
Especially in the second half. In fact, in its two second halves in Raleigh, Carolina made 24 of 35 shots (68.6%) and generally played with both flair and brilliant efficiency—precisely the way the consensus No. 1 team, both at the beginning and end of the season, should be playing.
Even Smith, now 7 for 7 in regional finals but 0 for 6 in pursuit of the NCAA title, was relaxed, albeit loath to talk about New Orleans. "This is this team's first regional championship, this team's first trip to the finals," he said. "It's a real accomplishment just to get this far. Sometimes I wonder. My friend Jack Hartman [the Kansas State coach] has been in the final eight five times and nobody writes about it. I'm happy just to reach the Final Four. I'd settle for this every year." But this year he may not have to.