"It's an old, trite thing, but you need to concentrate on the job," says the Wizard. "Being man-made, polls don't mean much. Pre-'64 we weren't even in the top 50. We were ranked 77th, and we went unbeaten. But I preferred to start out Number 1 because teams automatically respect you. And I preferred a mixture of ages. In Alcindor's sophomore year we went unbeaten, and they were a joy to work with. I felt they'd be better the next year because they'd know each other, be more indoctrinated into the system. But it didn't work that way. They'd get a little satisfied and not work. It's all subconscious, but it's true. By the time they were seniors they were at times intolerable. Same with Walton's team."
And similar to Kentucky's of 1977-78, except that then it was a question of who was intolerating whom? Those were the Wildcats of Givens, Robey and Phillips: NCAA finalists as freshmen, NIT winners as sophomores, champion heirs apparent after preseason-consensus Carolina faltered. Laboring under oppressive expectations from the most front-running fandom in all the universe, Hall whipped and spurred that Kentucky team like a latter-day Simon Legree.
When UK registered its second loss of the season—that OT defeat at LSU—the coach was furious, dubbing the Cats "the folding five" and "the quitting quintet." The next game, he jerked every player who made a mistake, 17 substitutions in the first half. In the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Kentucky trailed Florida State by seven points at halftime; Hall inserted three scrubs, and Kentucky prevailed.
Faces tight, teeth gritted, psyches less than vibrant, the tyrannized Wildcats won the title at St. Louis in what Hall called, sorrowfully, "a season without celebration. The fans wouldn't allow me to take it lightly. We didn't come to have fun. We came to win."
To be No. 1. The coaches, teams and fans in Chapel Hill and Bloomington know the feeling. The ones in Syracuse and Ann Arbor and maybe even Laramie, Wyo., are about to. A chilling photograph, taken after North Carolina's championship in '82, captures the whole thing. The Tar Heels' classic, raw-thrills victory over Georgetown is over, the momentary ecstasy past. Smith stares grimly at the floor, while two players sit staring vacantly, their bodies exhausted, senses virtually paralyzed—images defining defeat. Except for one thing. The shreds of net still cling to the drooping neck of James Worthy. "The feeling was, Whew!" Matt Doherty would say later. "What did we just go through?"
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