Forget it. If it didn't happen at last Saturday's East Regional final in Providence, it won't happen this week in Lexington. There was America's best college center on the bench with four fouls. There was one of America's best coaches blowing a nine-point first-half lead with a momentum-stopping spread offense. There was America's scrappiest, most pressure-proof band of marauders throwing the ball away and committing foolish charging fouls in the second half. But when it was all over, there was America's best team—Georgetown—again on top.
To some, the Hoyas' less-than-decisive 60-54 victory over Georgia Tech served notice that this lean, mean fighting machine could well be had this week in Lexington, where it will bid for a second straight NCAA title. Don't count on it. There wasn't a team in the tournament better equipped to stop the Hoyas than Tech, which had the size, the outside shooting and the temperament. But it didn't.
"There's something about Georgetown," said Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "They believe in themselves. They're fighters. They won't let go. They have the hearts of champions."
That's it, isn't it? They have the hearts of champions—proud, defiant, unyielding. Take note of their shortcomings: Following the lead of their coach, John Thompson, they're clannish, suspicious and defensive. But grant them their due. They play hard, they play together, they play selflessly, and they play as well as any team since John Wooden's UCLA dynasty ended in the early '70s.
Take backup center Ralph Dalton, a kind of up-front M.L. Carr, the guy who leads the cheers and rushes into the pack like a 6'11" big brother whenever an opponent has the temerity to raise an eyebrow at one of his teammates. For the pleasure of caddying for Patrick Ewing, Dalton rehabilitated a seriously injured right knee in his freshman year, and there he was at the foul line against Tech, one-and-one, 14 seconds left, Georgetown ahead by 56-54. A mere 60.4% foul shooter, Dalton calmly canned both shots to ice the victory.
"I knew I had to hit them or I couldn't go back to the bench," said Dalton. "He's right," said Thompson, throwing a huge paw around Dalton's shoulder. Clip these quotes—they represent Hoya humor at its highest.
Or take Reggie Williams, who would be a superstar on most other teams but who averages 11.7 points for the Hoyas. Twice down the stretch (at 1:12 and at 0:45) the sophomore wraith made both ends of a one-and-one to give Georgetown a four-point lead.
Or take Horace Broadnax, a junior who backs up classmate Michael Jackson at point guard. Jackson was no thriller on Saturday, clanking out an 0 for 6 from the floor, but in his stead Broadnax gave Georgetown 18 quality minutes (nine points, three defensive rebounds, zero turnovers).
Or take Bill Martin, the Hoyas' 6'7" forward. Ewing gets—and deserves—the galactic encomiums, but Martin is the glue of this team, a relentless defender and an underrated offensive player. While Ewing, with four fouls, was sitting restlessly on the bench from 18:02 to 5:32 of the second half, it was Martin who played bullyboy in the middle, forcing the much taller John Salley (7 feet) and Yvon Joseph (6'11") to work for everything they got. Which, in Joseph's case, wasn't much (one shot, zero points, zero rebounds) in the second half. Salley, who eventually fouled out with a game-high 15 points and five rebounds, had six of his 10 second-half points during Ewing's absence, but was by no means dominant. "Myself and Ralph tried to rally the guys so there wouldn't be an emotional letdown with Pat out of the game," said Martin. "We may have picked the intensity up a little, especially defensively." Miles 'n' miles 'n' miles of heart.
Mark Price, Georgia Tech's 6-foot junior point guard, an All-America on some lists, had been absolutely eerie in the Yellow Jackets' 61-53 semifinal victory over Illinois on Thursday night, launching his cloud-kissing jumpers from all angles and distances. He was 9 of 12 from the field. But Price turned bricklayer against Georgetown, making only one of his eight shots in the second half—he was 3 of 16 for the game—when Tech desperately needed his outside touch to take the pressure off inside.
Price's cold shooting only punctuated Georgetown's real strength, which is its depth, its legions of doom. Ewing wasn't around for much of the second half, but Dalton was, and when he got into foul trouble, in came third-string freshman center Grady Mateen to do the job. Jackson was even colder than Price, but Martin, Broadnax and Williams shot 12 of 20 from the floor. Paging Michael Graham. Wasn't this team supposed to miss the exiled intimidator?
Price has a year to rise, but Loyola's Alfrederick (The Great) Hughes probably lost beaucoup NBA bucks off his non-performance in the Ramblers' 65-53 loss to Georgetown in the semis. Martin wore him like a cheap suit, and Hughes, the NCAA's No. 5 alltime scorer, finished with eight points, ending a streak of 94 consecutive double-figure games.
Illinois' two best players, forward Efrem Winters and point guard Bruce Douglas, were MIA, too, in their semifinal against Tech. Winters had just four rebounds and did not score during the game's last 34:12. Douglas had a real doozy of a stat line: 1 of 6 from the floor, two rebounds, one assist and nine turnovers. Were it not for Doug Altenberger's bombs (he scored 24 points, including 14 in a row late in the game), the Big Ten's lone representative among the final 16 could've mailed the result in from Champaign.
So the best two teams made the final. And the best team, Georgetown, had Tech on the ropes early in the first half, when Thompson, ahead by 28-21, went to his spread, perhaps to show that he can coach the hell out of the game, which everyone knows. At any rate, Tech tied the score at 29 at halftime. Thompson ordered the spread for much of the second half, too, but with Ewing not around to swoop in from the wing for pterodactylian dunks and tap-ins, Georgetown never really looked comfortable in it. At the same time, the Price was not right and Tech couldn't capitalize. Once Georgetown got the lead at 46-44 on a Dalton follow shot with 7:22 to play, it never lost it, using its pressure defense and clutch foul shooting in the stretch to hold on.
"Indiana had it," said Cremins. "North Carolina had it once. And now it's Georgetown." The "it" is a lot of things, but mostly it's heart. And Georgetown, indeed, has a lot of it.