On the Pirates' ensuing desperation pass, Greene collided with teammate Daryll Walker, whose rushed 21-foot shot had no prayer. "Maybe I ought to retire right now," said the semitemporary Wolverine coach, who kept referring to himself in the in-vogue third person. " Steve Fisher is unbeaten, untied and the happiest man alive."
There have been unlikely NCAA finalists before, but given the situations at Michigan and Seton Hall, there has hardly been a weirder pairing of coaches in a championship game than the one in Seattle. The Pirates had done enough losing as recently as last season to cause the Seton Hall student senate to call for Carlesimo's resignation. An alumni faction, concerned about Carlesimo's bachelor life-style, had expressed misgivings as well. During those trying times young P.J. (for Peter John)—who's 39 when wearing that russet shag of a beard he grew on a trip to Australia in the summer of 1987 but only 19 when clean-shaven—called up Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt to inquire if his whiskers had a bearing on his job security. "Both you and I know you're a helluva coach," said Gavitt. "If you like the beard, then——'em."
Which is how it happened that the Final Four was graced not only with the first bearded coach in its history but also with its first substitute teacher. "My biggest moment?" said Fisher, who took over the Wolverines the day before the tournament, after Bill Frieder had announced he would be relocating at Arizona State. "I coached a high school team [Rich East] in Park Forest, Illinois, that once won a prestigious Christmas tournament down in Centralia. Gosh, for a guy like me, they're all big."
By sundown on Saturday—after Fisher had made all the right moves, after Michigan had come from behind 17 times to avenge two regular-season losses to Illinois, after Fisher had ordered his wandering-on-the-perimeter pseudoguard, the 6'9" Higgins, to stay inside so that he could eventually put back the rebound that would give the Wolverines an 83-81 victory and advance them to the championship game for the first time since 1976—after all that, everyone who had neither been living under a rock nor taking part in spring football practice at Ann Arbor was wondering why in heaven's name Schembechler hadn't made Fisher the permanent coach. Then again, Saturday was April Fools' Day, not to mention Schembechler's 60th birthday. Happy birthday, Foo...uh, Bo.
Truth is, these new body-by-Fisher Wolverines bear no resemblance to the uptight, gagging Wolves of years past, or even to the ones who flat-out loafed in their most recent loss to the Illini, an 89-73 laugher at Ann Arbor in the regular-season finale. "The only things looser in Seattle are Boeing's cargo doors," wrote
columnist Art Thiel about the Wolverines.
As Michigan and Illinois entered the last 3� minutes of their semifinal tied 74-74, Illini coach Lou Henson inexplicably removed Kendall Gill from the game. Free of Gill's oppressive defense, Robinson slashed down the pipe to feed Mark Hughes for a dunk. Robinson then stole a pass and dished off to Rice for another dunk. The basket was Rice's 12th of the game, but Michigan's 78-74 lead was hardly safe with the Illini's Kenny Battle, who had a game-high 29 points, still rattling around somewhere in the upper reaches of the Kingdome. With 2:28 to go Battle made Illinois's only three-pointer of the second half, and 1:54 later he put in another of his angled lefty jumpers to tie the score at 81.
Twenty seconds remained when Robinson rushed the ball up the court. With Rice stuck in a pilaf of defenders, Robinson passed to Mills, whose shot from the right corner with six seconds to play hit the front iron and bounced into the hands of Higgins, who has been connected to NCAA investigations of both Kentucky and UCLA. "I finally got my butt in the right place," said Higgins, whose simple rebound flip at :03 finished the Illini.
"We didn't think they would play that hard that long," said Illinois's Larry Smith after the Wolverines had held the Illini to 13 offensive boards and had out-rebounded them 45-39. "I've never seen a Michigan team play that way."
If Michigan is a team with a newfound love of labor, Seton Hall is traditional drudge and grind, as the Pirates proved by overcoming that 12-point deficit on Monday night and by coming from 18 points behind in their semi against Duke. After 11-plus minutes, the Blue Devils led 26-8. At this point the Dookies could be excused if they thought they had the tournament's best player in Danny Ferry, who ended up with 34 points; its deepest bench; the firmest will; and the longest staying power. But one out of four ain't good enough. Over the next 28-plus minutes, Seton Hall scored e-i-g-h-t-y s-e-v-e-n points. The final score of 95-78 seemed a cruel price to pay for Duke, which had beaten the old Big East beast, Georgetown, the week before, only to run into a brand-new one.
Afterward, Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Hall would have "more guys on the cover of Muscle Magazine [than we would]." Indeed, early on, Greene, who's 6'1", 175 pounds, smashed Robert Brickey, Duke's 6'5", 210-pound forward, to the floor on a breakaway, rendering him virtually useless and destroying the Blue Devils' fragile rhythm. "I tried to hold him up," said Greene, whose 17 points, eight assists and disdainful penetration broke down the Duke defense. "I'm sorry he was hurt, but when you're going for the national championship.... It was a big-time play."