After so many NCAA near misses; Dean Smith finally gets title as N. Carolina edges Georgetown
As defined by North Carolina's assistant coach Bill Guthridge, the basketball hugger is a game that concludes with everybody running into the dressing room and hugging one another. For Guthridge's boss, the search for the ultimate hugger finally ended here in the Superdome.
A Dean Smith-coached team won the college basketball championship, defeating Georgetown 63-62 in a game fans will talk about 20 years from now--it was that fierce and exciting.
About a month ago, Carolina's senior playmaker, Jimmy Black, had called a team meeting in his dormitory room. ''This is it,'' he said. ''This is the year we're going to win the national championship for Coach Smith. Every time I read an article it's about how he always chokes in the Final Four. I'm tired of reading it.''
Smith actually established himself as one of the game's greatest winners long ago, and has never felt burdened to prove it. After all, only the legendary John Wooden of UCLA ever took a team to the Final Four more times (12). And in addition to his collegiate laurels, there was his 1976 success as coach of the victorious US Olympic team at Montreal.
In finally hitting the NCAA jackpot with this, his seventh Final Four team, Smith admitted to some relief. Not because the thought of being labeled a chronic big game loser worried him, but simply because, for once, he felt he had the nation's best team.
Many coaches and writers agreed, making the Tar Heels No. 1 in the pre-season polls and then voting them to the top spot after they raced through a 27-2 regular season.
To win it all saddled with this millstone is a feat Smith expects to become exceedingly rare in the future, with so many quality teams capable of tournament upsets.
North Carolina barely escaped elimination itself early in the tournament, squeaking by James Madison 52-50 in its opening game. From there, however, the Tar Heels seemed to gather momentum with victories over Alabama, Villanova, and Houston before Monday night's close encounter against Georgetown.
This was supposedly the capstone to a career, the missing piece to the puzzle , yet in his moment of personal glory Smith elected to toss a verbal bouquet to his counterpart and friend on the Georgetown bench. ''I think I was outcoached tonight,'' he said in acknowledging the job done by John Thompson, who has completely turned around the Hoya basketball program since arriving on the Washington D.C. campus in 1972.
Much had been made of the pair's close relationship. They met when Smith was recruiting one of Thompson's players in the early 1970s while the latter was still a high school coach, and their association continued as John's son attended Dean's summer basketball camp and as Smith chose Thompson to be an assistant coach for the Olympic team.
Smith is particularly aware of Thompson's ability as a motivator, and distinctly remembers the moving pep talk he delivered to the Olympians before they went out and won the gold medal. ''I was worried he might give that same talk to his players before this game,'' Smith said after North Carolina's hair-raising victory.
Drinking a quart of milk in the post-game press conference, Thompson said he approached the contest with a lot of determination. ''I made up my mind before the game that I was not going to be a nice guy,'' he said. ''As the student, I wanted to show the teacher I knew a little basketball.''
His intensity had him raging like a bull in the second half, when at one juncture he berated the referees and courtside officials in a volcanic display.
The game was quite easily one of the most emotional in National Collegiate Athletic Association history, as tempers flared and players engaged in extra-curricular shoving on several occasions.
The game was that rarity in sports, a championship that transcended almost everyone's expectations for it. The lead seemingly changed hands on the minute, and neither team ever got more than six points ahead.
Chapters will be written about these 40 minutes in New Orleans, but the most memorable play occurred in the blink of an eye. With just five seconds left and Georgetown looking for the potential game-winning shot, North Carolina's James Worthy stole the ball.
It was not your ordinary steal. Georgetown's Fred Brown threw the ball to Worthy as though he were a Hoya. There wasn't a Georgetown player in the area.
In the heat of the moment, Brown had reacted to a false stimulus--a cut by an opponent whom he expected to be his own teammate.
''I didn't really think I was taking any risk,'' Worthy said in explaining what he was doing out of defensive position. ''It was just instinct.''
With 57 seconds left Georgetown appeared to have the Tar Heels on the ropes after Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, playing his last collegiate game, put the Hoyas ahead 62-61 with a short, leaning jump shot. No longer able to freeze the ball, North Carolina called time. Smith set up a play for sharpshooting guard Michael Jordan , who hit a medium-range jumper from the baseline with 15 seconds left. That set the stage for Worthy's steal.
The theft was his third of the night, and added to 13-for-17 shooting and 28 points made him a clear choice as the game's Outstanding Player. On several occasions, including back-to-back plays in the second half, the 6 ft. 9 in. junior swooped to the basket for electrifying slam dunks of incredible force.
Attempting to counter these displays of powerful, in-your-face basketball was freshman Pat Ewing, the seven-footer with the fire-breathing nostrils and flying elbows.
Ewing meant well, but his shot-blocking exuberance got the game off to a bizarre start. North Carolina's first eight points were scored on goal-tending calls against him. He was a major contributor to the Georgetown cause, though, with a game-high 11 rebounds, team-high 23 points, plus three steals and two clean blocks.
Next year he should be even more awesome - enough so that Georgetown already looks to be the team to beat despite the loss of starters Floyd, Eric Smith, and Mike Hancock.
North Carolina won't be too shabby either, particularly if Worthy decides to stick around for his senior year rather than turn pro. And, of course, there's always Dean Smith, the coach with the Midas touch. He brought the school only its second national title, the other secured when Frank McGuire was head coach in 1957. ''I'm glad he got this monkey off his back,'' said McGuire of Smith after the game. ''Now he can free-wheel it the rest of his life. He's got that championship. And what a championship it was.''