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Tim Layden
March 29, 2004
Villanova's seismic victory over Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA final was a life-altering experience for the Wildcats. The coaches and players of that miracle team are still feeling the aftershocks
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March 29, 2004

The Upset

Villanova's seismic victory over Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA final was a life-altering experience for the Wildcats. The coaches and players of that miracle team are still feeling the aftershocks

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Yet Thompson was much more than a scowling manipulator. On Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday Thompson turned practice into an open discussion of King's and Malcolm X's influence. During the '85 Final Four newspapers were stuffed with stories detailing the Hoyas' being sequestered in Louisville, while the other teams partied in Lexington. It was reported that Villanova took a day trip to Calumet Farm to watch stallions gambol in their paddocks. And Georgetown? "We watched Seattle Slew make babies," says Jackson. "Twice. But everyone assumed we were locked in our rooms."

As for being unpopular, Thompson shrugged then and shrugs now. "We sold more product [ Nike T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, etc.] than any program in the country," he says. "I didn't care about being liked. I just wanted our program to be respected. And in 1985 I don't think there was a living ass in the country who didn't think we were the better team."


On the Saturday of final four weekend Villanova's befuddling array of defenses humbled Memphis State, and the Wildcats advanced to the title game with a 52-45 win. "I'll bet [Tigers point guard] Andre Turner is still confused," says McClain. "We were very confident they would have trouble." The Villanova players then sat in the stands to watch what many observers viewed as the de facto national championship game; the Wildcats silently rooted like hell for Georgetown to defeat St. John's. "We could not beat St. John's," says Pinckney. "Bad matchups, bad history, everything." Villanova got its wish: The Hoyas prevailed 75-59.

At 5 a.m. on Sunday the Villanova coaching staff met in Massimino's hotel room and plotted a strategy. The Hoyas had beaten Villanova 52-50 in overtime at the Spectrum and 57-50 in Landover, Md. " Coach Thompson wasn't going to change much for us, we knew that," says Buonaguro, who was responsible for preparing the championship game scouting report. "So we stuck with what we did, and added a couple of little wrinkles." The Wildcats would play their array of zone defenses and, on Georgetown's first pass, would often switch to a matchup or man-to-man. "The goal," says Lappas, "was to make Georgetown run a zone offense while we were playing man-to-man, and they wouldn't realize it." They also dropped a guard down to double-team Ewing, but from his blind side, which they had not done in the regular season.

"Offensively," says Massimino, "we just tweaked a few things to make sure we got the ball to Eddie. He loved to play against Patrick." One other thing they would do: Put the ball in McLain's hands and let him beat Georgetown's swarming, 94-foot defense with his skills, his head and his heart. It was a daunting assignment and would require the game of his life.

On Monday afternoon Villanova gathered in a meeting room at the Lexington Ramada Inn for its pregame Catholic mass and meal. The meal was customarily a time for family fun. "Like Sunday dinner at the Massiminos'," says Everson. Massimino had never delivered a postmeal speech, but on this day he did. First he spoke softly about former Villanova coach Al Severance, who had died that morning at age 79. "He'll be up on the basket swatting Georgetown shots away," Massimino said. And then he went in another direction. "Go back to your rooms," he said. "Close your eyes and picture yourself playing this game to win. Don't play this game not to lose. Play it to win. Believe you can win." And then he sat back down.

"It was incredibly moving," says Jensen. "And effective. It gave us a sense of calm, almost in a meditative way. I could feel a real quiet confidence in the room. Not rah-rah, like we're going to run over these guys. But like we know them, and we can play with them."

Several hours later Villanova players sprinted onto the floor of Rupp Arena, filled to its capacity of more than 23,000 fans, raucous in their support of Villanova. Backers of Kentucky's Wildcats had made Villanova's their own for the weekend, and any other neutrals in attendance lined up behind the underdog. Massimino shook hands with Thompson before the tap, walked back to his bench and said to his assistants, "We've got 'em. His hands are sweating."

The game that unfolded in the ensuing two hours was a work of art. It started when Pinckney took the ball directly at Ewing on an early possession and dealt a soft pass to Pressley, who willed in a wild reverse layup. "I thought, What is this?" recalls Jackson. McClain dunked on the next Villanova possession. Before the night was finished Villanova would make 22 of 29 field goal attempts, a mind-boggling 78.6%, including nine of 10 in the second half. ("The one we missed, Patrick blocked, and I was actually passing to Ed," says McClain. "In reality we were nine for nine.") McLain was flawless and cocksure with the ball against pressure, Jensen shot 5 for 5, and Pinckney, playing with the flu, had 16 points and six rebounds to Ewing's 14 and five. "We played fine," says Ewing now. "They shot the heck out of the ball."

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