From Chaminade to Pace Mannion. Not even one full round was completed before the 1983 NCAA tournament began to resemble the regular season—as whacked-out, rollicking and rules-whipped a campaign as college basketball ever had. And, wouldn't you know it, after the usual upsets by the usual prexies—James Madison, fourth President of the U.S.A., and Mirabeau B. Lamar, second President of the nation of Texas—the pace was made even more improbable by a kid named Pace and a Utah team with the worst won-lost record in the NCAA (or even NIT) field.
For anybody who can recall last Christmas Eve eve when Chaminade, the tiny Hawaiian school that put the hula back into hoops, shocked Virginia and initiated a dizzying trend resulting in eight different teams sharing the mantle of No. 1 in the various polls, it's easy to understand why Utah, 16-13 during the regular season, was able to knock off UCLA, one of those elegant eight.
First, No. 1 isn't much different than No. 101 these days. Second, the tournament really is a brand-new season, just as CBS keeps telling us. And finally, six of those eight n√∫mero unos didn't look so very marveloso coming down the stretch: Virginia, North Carolina, Memphis State and UCLA all lost their final pre-NCAA games; Houston and UNLV barely won theirs.
So it was that even before arriving in Boise, Idaho, UCLA Guard Michael Holton labeled his own team "a paper champion." On paper the Bruins' readout is tradition, experience, superior athleticism. Three of them played in the 1980 championship game. Since then, however, they have become abominably defenseless, and on Saturday Utah Coach Jerry Pimm taught his UCLA counterpart, Larry Farmer, a tactical lesson. Three Utes were held off the offensive boards to prevent fast breaks. Which meant UCLA had to stand around on offense and Utah could stay close. Which meant the Bruins had a blue and golden opportunity to gag. Which they did, especially in the last 10 minutes.
Utah had sneaked into the tournament as one of the WAC's tri-champions. The Utes had sneaked up on UCLA by upsetting Illinois in the first round, when the fair-haired, 6'7" Mannion, as in reckless abandon, checked Illini star Derek Harper clear out of the contest. Leading the Bruins with 5:37 left, Utah spread out in a delay. All Mannion did then was convert five free throws, smother Rocket Foster with frenetic defense and pitch a glorious three-quarter-court inbounds strike to Peter Williams through the Bruins' sieve for the key breakaway. Toward the end of the 67-61 victory Pimm had to belt his center, Chris Winans, with a towel to calm him. "The Cinderella slipper may fit if we keep jamming our foot in it," said Pimm. "We were ugly coming in but we're getting prettier."
Pretty funny was Washington State Coach George Raveling, who showed up in Boise, the City of Trees, to cut down the tallest pine, Virginia's Sampson, and saw off some one-liners. Raveling on Cougar fans chanting "We Want Ralph": "They're actually 50 boosters from the Houston Rockets." On Sampson's height: "I asked Ralph when his birthday was and he said June 1st, 2nd and 3rd." On Washington State's academics as compared with Virginia's: "Our players are so dumb I have to drop bread crumbs to get them to class." State Forward Aaron Haskins said the matchup was "like David looking at Goliath. The only weak spot is between the eyes."
Or between the ears. The Cavaliers characteristically lost Sampson—or he lost them; it's difficult to explain these strange disappearances—for most of the second half, during which he took one shot and Virginia was ripe for the whipping. The Cougar matchup zone was forcing the Cavs into passivity (Othell Wilson four of 11 shots, Rick Carlisle reluctant even to breathe), while Haskins and Craig Ehlo, the misplaced beachboy, were combining for 26 points and Washington State was outrebounding Virginia 33-24. But with the Cavs leading 38-34 and 9:18 remaining, Sampson turned the game with two huge defensive plays, a rebound and a blocked shot that led to easy Cav buckets. Minutes later Sampson contributed another swoop-across-the-lane block, which only he and his shadow could have accomplished, to set up a fast-break three-point play by Wilson. This gave Virginia a 45-40 lead and made it virtually impossible for Wilson to single-handedly blow the game in the clutch, which he seemed eager to do while missing three one-and-one chances. "O, you da man," Assistant Coach Jim Larranaga bellowed when Othell finally made the two free throws that clinched Virginia's 54-49 escape.
Over at Corvallis, Ore., another one of those ACC interlopers, North Carolina State, eliminated another one of those former No. 1's, Las Vegas, when Thurl Bailey's tip-in beat the Rebels 71-70.
Another upset came in the Midwest, Iowa trouncing Missouri 77-63 to leave 13 of the 16 seeds still dancing. The winners moved on to this week's regional sites in Syracuse, Knoxville, Kansas City and Ogden. Winners there will fill out the Final Four in Albuquerque on Easter weekend. Hopping right along:
EAST: North Carolina began defense of its national championship with an extra-long practice scrimmage without a clock—"We wanted to wake us up," Coach Dean Smith said. James Madison may have gone to sleep after its upset of West Virginia; anyway, the Tar Heels whaled the Dukes 68-49, even though Michael Jordan played practically the entire second half with four fouls and Jimmy Braddock played with a crush on a James Madison cheerleader. That would be Sally Nay, who, having raced onto the court after Madison's first bucket, ran smack into a fast-breaking, flabbergasted Braddock. Charge? Block? Hospital? Luckily, none of the above. While Sally works on her man-to-man defense, Jordan and Sam Perkins go on to Syracuse, where their skids to the regional title were greased when the erstwhile hometown Orange was rudely eliminated by Ohio State, 79-74.
Now that 35,000 or so in the Carrier Dome will not be screaming them down, the Tar Heels can concentrate on combating Ohio State's speedy three-guard offense and the creative shooting of Tony Campbell. Perkins may have a picnic against the balding Granville Waiters once Sudden Sam turns in his ballot in the Guess Granville's Age contest.
Meanwhile, St. John's should dispose of quicker Georgia, which earned a tainted Dawg biscuit when James Banks fired the shot heard round the rim—or was it the shot that rimmed round the Heard?—to beat Virginia Commonwealth 56-54. TV replays seemed to show that Georgian Lamar Heard touched the ball within the cylinder, which would have constituted interference, but Banks got credit for the basket. "Naw, he still didn't touch it," said Dawg Coach Hugh Durham, upon viewing the play later.
The St. John's merry-go-round—"I don't want to get off yet," Coach Lou Carnesecca said—began with the Red-men's season-opening OT victory over Carolina, in which the Tar Heels had a five-point lead and ball possession with 90 seconds to play only to wave it goodby with uncharacteristically poor foul shooting. But North Carolina is the more improved club now. It's difficult to believe that the marvelous sophomore, Jordan, who has had a Player of the Year season—yes, Ralph fans, the best season—will let it happen again.
MIDEAST: Unfortunately for the citizens of the Commonwealth, the dream match in this regional final between Kentucky and Louisville will again be denied them if only because of Wildcat Coach Joe B. (for Beware?) Hall's aversion to the dreaded K's—Indiana Coach Bobby Knight and the city of Knoxville, where Hall is a dreadful 1-10 lifetime.
Last week Kentucky shook off the Ohio U. Bobcats, but Indiana's Bob, having lost one half of the streak-shooting Witchel Twins—Ted Kitchel went down to back surgery but Randy Wittman remains—has regrouped the Hoosiers and kept them winning on emotion, ball control and defense. Moreover, without Kitchel the offense has more continuity and the defense is quicker, better able to deal with Kentucky's massive postman, Melvin Turpin, and the gifted rookie Kenny (Sky) Walker. It will take a supreme effort for the Hoosiers to repeat December's 62-59 win over Kentucky, but that's what Knight's teams usually deliver, isn't it?
Louisville would seem to have too many weapons for both Arkansas and Indiana. Two wins would send Denny Crum to the Final Four for the fifth time in his 12 coaching years and cap the careers of the brothers McCray: Carlton Lamont (Scooter) and the stoical Rodney, a.k.a. Hard. As in hard to stop, to rattle, to beat, to get pub. It's not hard to see that Rodney is the most underrated player in many a season. While the versatile Cards still dunk and block anything that isn't battened down—Charles Jones, take a bow—they can press and play position defense too, run like the dickens or slow down to set it up.
MIDWEST: This is the celebrity regional. Houston's Phi Slamma Jammas. Keith Lee of Memphis State. The Villanova Killer P's, John Pinone and E-Z Ed Pinckney. Missouri's S-O-S squad, Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sunvold. Whoops, scrub the S-O-S. Which is what Iowa's Twin Towers, Greg Stokes and Michael Payne, did while ham 'n' egging for 41 points in the Hawkeye upset. Then there was the other pair of World Trade Centers, Georgetown's Pat Ewing versus Lee, commanding generals leading their troops in blue and gray near the Mason-Dixon Line at the sub-regional in Louisville. This time the gray won 66-57 as Lee outscored and outré bounded a foul-plagued Ewing 28 and 15 to 24 and nine (with four missed dunks).
In K.C., Houston's 7-footer, Akeem Olajuwon, will get much more help inside and out than Ewing did. In fact Larry (Mr. Mean) Micheaux will probably do the honors on Lee until he roams into Olajuwon's territory. But in Houston's 60-50 victory over Maryland, sloppy Cougar half-court defense and shabby foul shooting were exposed. The Terps were able to pass the ball 94 times on one trip downcourt and the Phis didn't register a single slamma until Clyde Drexler's game-ending jamma. "They tried to play a con game and it didn't work," said the Glide. "I let out frustration on that last one. I wish I could have broken the backboard."
The Cougars are just too slick and powerful for Iowa—Micheaux's tattoos alone are enough to scare the entire Big Ten—but Villanova is a cat of a different color. Namely, black and blue. Rollie Massimino's intelligent, and physical, gang is fresh from the Big East wars, and the Cats seemed to be over their year-end slump in the coast past Lamar, which got that far by upsetting Alabama. The 'Nova team strengths are designed to beat a bunch just like the Cougars: a barbwire all-court press that will test the suspect Houston guards, and one of the nation's best delay games. If the in-and-out Pinckney and the off-and-on Stewart Granger are in and on, Villanova should advance.
WEST: O.K., so what are we to make of Big Ralph? Is this it? Will the titan of the age pull up short of the finish, his goal unfulfilled, his career ended on the campus of...Weber State?
Consider the circumstances in Ogden: Utah will have run out of mirrors against N.C. State. The Wolfpack, lacking the ACC's three-point rule, which seven-year teammates Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg lived on from 17.750 feet, or whatever it is, cannot be expected to repeat its ACC tournament upset of Virginia twice in 13 days. The task of thwarting Sampson, then, remains for Boston College, which dispatched Princeton 51-42 in the second round after the sophisticated Tigers had shocked Oklahoma State 56-53 in the first round. (Mamas, don't let your Cowboys grow up to play Ivies.)
Looking ahead to BC-UVa, what if Eagle Coach Gary Williams, one of the truly inventive minds in the business, works the game to a frazzle? What if the swarming Eagle press bothers the Virginia ball handlers, while muscular 6'8" John Garris and heady 6'11" Jay Murphy collapse on Sampson down low? What if, at the other end, BC's Michael Adams, the yo-yo man, can confuse the Cav defenses enough for Garris to be effective in the key and for Murphy to bury bunches of his long one-handers? Imagine if the loosey-goosey Eagles achieve a solid lead and force a shaky, coughing Virginia to chase? WAHOOS WAYLAID IN THE WASATCH. Nobody should feel stunned if all of this happens. Just sort of sad that Sampson, the college student who passed up the bucks to stay in school, did not accomplish all he desired.
If the Final Four, then, turn out to be BC, Villanova, Louisville and North Carolina—and here is one vote for the Tar Heels to repeat as champions—the craziest outcome of this craziest season would be that Ralph Sampson, 7'4" Goliath that he is, ultimately finished up as a sentimental favorite.