Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino had ordered his players to take 15 minutes to put their mental houses in order before the national championship game against powerful, top-ranked Georgetown. ``I wanted them to think of two things,'' the dynamic, roundish, gum-chomping coach related after his team's breathtaking 66-64 upset. ``One was to play to win, not with the idea of trying not to lose. Second, I wanted them to tell themselves they were good enough to win. In a one-shot deal, you can beat anyone in the United States.''
The time obviously was well spent, for several hours later it was Villanova's Ed Pinckney who led the celebrating, leaping on top of a table at courtside and flashing the familiar No. 1 sign.
Only a nearly perfect performance could turn the trick against Georgetown's basketball juggernaut, Massimino had predicted. And a virtual textbook effort is what Villanova, never ranked higher than 14th during the regular season, produced Monday night before a crowd of 23,000 in Lexington's Rupp Arena.
The most prominent feature of this masterpiece was some lights-out shooting, a tournament record 78.6 percent field goal accuracy, including an astounding 90 percent in the tension-packed second half.
Georgetown, which was attempting to become the first team in 12 years to retain its national title, saw its date with history derailed.
The Hoyas had lost to North Carolina 63-62 in 1982, and this week sadly closed out the tremendous collegiate career of their center, seven-foot Patrick Ewing, on an equally crushing note.
So, much like North Carolina State two years ago, the Wildcats looked like a team whose time had perhaps come, if only they could fell a Hoya squad (withk 32 wins and only 2 losses) destined to be called one of the greatest of all time.
They played with intelligence and patience, working for good shots while refusing to buckle in the face of Georgetown's constant defensive pressure and hitting clutch free throws. They also did a superlative job of plugging the dike on a couple of occasions, shutting down hot-shooting Reggie Williams in the second half and quieting Ewing after a flurry of three soaring dunks (two on alley-oops) threatened to pump up the Hoyas.
When all was said and done, Villanova had finally secured the pot of gold, winning the school's first national crown in its 17th tournament appearance.
The Wildcats had once finished second in 1971, but had their position ``vacated'' because of violations of NCAA amateurism rules by star player Howard Porter.
This time they won it all, not only tying North Carolina State's 1983 team for the most defeats (10) by a champion, but earning the satisfaction of doing it with a clean reputation.
They Hoyas' coach acknowledged as much in defeat. ``I don't think there's any consolation in losing,'' said John Thompson, ``but there is some consolation in losing to people like Rollie [Massimino] and Dean [Smith in 1982]. I think they run honest programs and work hard as I do.''
Like Thompson, Massimino worked his way up from the high school ranks and stresses academics to his players. He's been known to get his players up before dawn for study halls, and points with pride to a 100 percent graduation rate.
A real cornerstone of his success has been the way he treats his players as part of his extended family. ``Coach `Mass' has been a brother, a friend, a father, a boss, and a coach to me,'' says McLain, whose affection for his mentor has not a hint of phoniness to it.
A similar sentiment was expressed by Harry Booth, one of Rollie's assistants, in the euphoric moments following Monday night's victory. Booth, a volunteer assistant who works for a truck leasing firm, said, ``This is fantastic. Seven years ago I got fired from [a head coaching job] at St. Joseph's. But Rollie basically took me in and made me feel a part of Villanova's basketball family.''
Over on the bench, meanwhile, sat Massimino, his tie and thinning hair slightly dissheveled, his wife Mary Jane at his side, and a beautiful smile dominating his animated face. A battery of cameras clicked madly, but like a true head of the household, he was still thinking of the little things.
Noticing an unattended fishnet bag with various team paraphernalia near the Villanova bench, he gathered it up, made sure it found its rightful place, and then headed off to help cut down the Rupp Arena nets.
Meanwhile, towering Pat Ewing, whose pride has been compared by his coach to that of a warrior, raised his index finger, too, in a triumphant gesture as he strode to center court to receive recognition for being a second-place finisher.
``I think I had a great career at Georgetown. I learned a great deal from Coach Thompson. We might not have won the ballgame, but I still think we're No. 1.''
Indeed, many experts will probably agree, because just reaching the finals during three of four years is an incredible accomplishment, especially in an era of greater competitive parity.
Villanova makes for a more popular champion, however. For not only were the Wildcats unranked underdogs by the time they reached the Final Four, they were also media darlings with a colorful coach and likeable, articulate players.
The team's three senior leaders -- Pinckney, guard Gary McLain, and forward Dwayne McClain -- had hit it off while attending the same summer basketball camp in the Poconos while still in high school.
Pinckney recalls that the two others ``kept telling me we would end up doing something special before it was all over. I believed them.''