During the East Regional coaches were walking around Atlanta, brains fairly bulging with heavy-duty cerebration, presenting a clear and present danger that a sudden insight might cause any of them to explode without warning. With Dean Smith of North Carolina, Bobby Knight of Indiana and Virginia's Terry Holland—a late entry in cogitation carnival—all doing exquisite mental gymnastics, the East became a kind of gorgeous think tank. Syracuse, the fourth entry in the East, evinced no brainpower whatever.
The startling chain of events left in its wake the following questions: If beating top-ranked North Carolina 72-68 on Thursday night certified Knight as head wiz, what exactly did it mean when Indiana lost 50-48 to Virginia in the final on Saturday? And how was it that Holland, who was everybody's dummy last season because he couldn't win a national championship with Ralph Sampson, and who was supposed to be overmatched intellectually by Knight and Smith, was able to take a team without great talent and make it play just well enough to beat anybody? And who is Widmark Polynice, and is he smarter than any of the aforementioned deep thinkers?
The answer to the easiest question is that Widmark is the 17-year-old brother of the Cavaliers' 6' 11" freshman center, Olden Polynice. Sitting in his family's apartment in New York City last week, Widmark may have had as much to do with Virginia going to the Final Four as any coach in Atlanta. Widmark's suggestions don't always coincide with what the Cavalier coaches want Olden to do. "Certain things he tells me are not the same as what they tell me," says Olden. "When that happens, I listen to my brother. He's right 98 percent of the time."
Widmark phoned Olden last week with detailed scouting reports on the offensive tendencies of the opposing pivotmen in the regional. Armed with this advice, Olden held Syracuse's Andre Hawkins to no points, no shots and three rebounds before Hawkins fouled out in Virginia's 63-55 semifinal victory on Thursday. Olden then limited the Hoosiers' 7'2" Uwe Blab to 5-of-14 shooting and scored 12 crucial points himself in what may have been the final game's most significant individual duel.
After winning only eight of their last 18 regular-season outings, finishing in a tie for fifth in the ACC and just squeaking into the NCAAs, the Cavaliers have won three of their four tournament games so far by a total of five points. Only against Syracuse could they pile up any kind of lead, and even in that inept game Virginia missed its first nine shots. But the Orangemen shot 28% in the first half and never came up for air. "Sometimes we have the ability, when we're playing poorly, to drag the other team down to our level," said Holland.
Neither Knight nor Smith had any intention of being dragged off his formidable coaching pedestal when they faced each other in Thursday night's second game. The Tar Heels, led by Player of the Year Michael Jordan and stickout forward Sam Perkins, came into the East Regional with a 28-2 record and were favored to win the national championship. Just before the Carolina-Indiana game, Holland labeled the Heels "the finest college basketball team [ever] put together."
Knight decided he would try to contain Carolina's two stars and let the rest of the Tar Heels beat him from the outside if they could. "They jammed Perkins and Jordan and were willing to pay the price for that," said Smith. "We could've taken all the 15-footers we wanted, but they would've been from the people they chose to allow to shoot." The task of attempting to bring the swooping Jordan to earth fell to 6'5" Dan Dakich, who plays a physical game but has no known vertical leap. Knight instructed Dakich to lay off Jordan, thereby cutting off any direct path to the basket. The stratagem so confounded Jordan that he became indecisive about when to shoot, and he eventually fouled out after only 26 minutes of playing time, with 13 points. Further, Carolina had to play catch-up nearly the whole game. "One thing that hurt us was that [after the first few minutes] they never had to play from behind," said Perkins. "There was no need for them to play scared." Actually, going in, the Hoosiers had plenty of reason to be scared. For one thing, they weren't that good. For another, they started two freshmen, a sophomore and five white guys. But when freshman Steve Alford hit a layup with 5:36 to play, Carolina trailed by 12 points for the first time all season.
The Hoosiers built their lead mainly on Alford's nine points midway through the second half and they hung in when he broke a 10-0 Carolina run and made 6 of 6 free throws in one-and-one situations after Indiana had failed on the front end of four consecutive bonus tries. The Hoosiers didn't even take a shot from the field in the final 5½ minutes of their monster upset, but the redoubtable Alford made one big play after another en route to scoring 27 points.
Against Virginia, however, Alford couldn't shake Othell Wilson, who hounded him into a 2-for-7 day from the field. For Wilson, whose dream is to play on the Olympic team, the job on Alford was a message to Knight, the U.S. team coach. Virginia's Jim Miller and Kenton Edelin sent Knight another kind of message. Miller had 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Edelin scored only five points, but he got them when it counted: With 1:27 left he stole the ball and hit a layup to put the Cavs up 45-44 and, after that, sank 3 of 4 free throws. But the loudest message of all may have come from Holland, who heretofore had distinguished himself primarily as a fashion trendsetter for wearing a 7'4" guy named Ralph around his neck. "I'm not as good a coach as I'm going to be made out to be now that we're going to the Final Four," said the newest Einstein of the pine, "and I'm certainly not as bad as I was made out to be last year when we didn't go."