From Chaminade to Pace Mannion. Not even one full round was completed before the 1983 NCAA tournament began to resemble the regular season—as whacked-out, rollicking and rules-whipped a campaign as college basketball ever had. And, wouldn't you know it, after the usual upsets by the usual prexies—James Madison, fourth President of the U.S.A., and Mirabeau B. Lamar, second President of the nation of Texas—the pace was made even more improbable by a kid named Pace and a Utah team with the worst won-lost record in the NCAA (or even NIT) field.
For anybody who can recall last Christmas Eve eve when Chaminade, the tiny Hawaiian school that put the hula back into hoops, shocked Virginia and initiated a dizzying trend resulting in eight different teams sharing the mantle of No. 1 in the various polls, it's easy to understand why Utah, 16-13 during the regular season, was able to knock off UCLA, one of those elegant eight.
First, No. 1 isn't much different than No. 101 these days. Second, the tournament really is a brand-new season, just as CBS keeps telling us. And finally, six of those eight número unos didn't look so very marveloso coming down the stretch: Virginia, North Carolina, Memphis State and UCLA all lost their final pre-NCAA games; Houston and UNLV barely won theirs.
So it was that even before arriving in Boise, Idaho, UCLA Guard Michael Holton labeled his own team "a paper champion." On paper the Bruins' readout is tradition, experience, superior athleticism. Three of them played in the 1980 championship game. Since then, however, they have become abominably defenseless, and on Saturday Utah Coach Jerry Pimm taught his UCLA counterpart, Larry Farmer, a tactical lesson. Three Utes were held off the offensive boards to prevent fast breaks. Which meant UCLA had to stand around on offense and Utah could stay close. Which meant the Bruins had a blue and golden opportunity to gag. Which they did, especially in the last 10 minutes.
Utah had sneaked into the tournament as one of the WAC's tri-champions. The Utes had sneaked up on UCLA by upsetting Illinois in the first round, when the fair-haired, 6'7" Mannion, as in reckless abandon, checked Illini star Derek Harper clear out of the contest. Leading the Bruins with 5:37 left, Utah spread out in a delay. All Mannion did then was convert five free throws, smother Rocket Foster with frenetic defense and pitch a glorious three-quarter-court inbounds strike to Peter Williams through the Bruins' sieve for the key breakaway. Toward the end of the 67-61 victory Pimm had to belt his center, Chris Winans, with a towel to calm him. "The Cinderella slipper may fit if we keep jamming our foot in it," said Pimm. "We were ugly coming in but we're getting prettier."
Pretty funny was Washington State Coach George Raveling, who showed up in Boise, the City of Trees, to cut down the tallest pine, Virginia's Sampson, and saw off some one-liners. Raveling on Cougar fans chanting "We Want Ralph": "They're actually 50 boosters from the Houston Rockets." On Sampson's height: "I asked Ralph when his birthday was and he said June 1st, 2nd and 3rd." On Washington State's academics as compared with Virginia's: "Our players are so dumb I have to drop bread crumbs to get them to class." State Forward Aaron Haskins said the matchup was "like David looking at Goliath. The only weak spot is between the eyes."
Or between the ears. The Cavaliers characteristically lost Sampson—or he lost them; it's difficult to explain these strange disappearances—for most of the second half, during which he took one shot and Virginia was ripe for the whipping. The Cougar matchup zone was forcing the Cavs into passivity (Othell Wilson four of 11 shots, Rick Carlisle reluctant even to breathe), while Haskins and Craig Ehlo, the misplaced beachboy, were combining for 26 points and Washington State was outrebounding Virginia 33-24. But with the Cavs leading 38-34 and 9:18 remaining, Sampson turned the game with two huge defensive plays, a rebound and a blocked shot that led to easy Cav buckets. Minutes later Sampson contributed another swoop-across-the-lane block, which only he and his shadow could have accomplished, to set up a fast-break three-point play by Wilson. This gave Virginia a 45-40 lead and made it virtually impossible for Wilson to single-handedly blow the game in the clutch, which he seemed eager to do while missing three one-and-one chances. "O, you da man," Assistant Coach Jim Larranaga bellowed when Othell finally made the two free throws that clinched Virginia's 54-49 escape.
Over at Corvallis, Ore., another one of those ACC interlopers, North Carolina State, eliminated another one of those former No. 1's, Las Vegas, when Thurl Bailey's tip-in beat the Rebels 71-70.
Another upset came in the Midwest, Iowa trouncing Missouri 77-63 to leave 13 of the 16 seeds still dancing. The winners moved on to this week's regional sites in Syracuse, Knoxville, Kansas City and Ogden. Winners there will fill out the Final Four in Albuquerque on Easter weekend. Hopping right along:
EAST: North Carolina began defense of its national championship with an extra-long practice scrimmage without a clock—"We wanted to wake us up," Coach Dean Smith said. James Madison may have gone to sleep after its upset of West Virginia; anyway, the Tar Heels whaled the Dukes 68-49, even though Michael Jordan played practically the entire second half with four fouls and Jimmy Braddock played with a crush on a James Madison cheerleader. That would be Sally Nay, who, having raced onto the court after Madison's first bucket, ran smack into a fast-breaking, flabbergasted Braddock. Charge? Block? Hospital? Luckily, none of the above. While Sally works on her man-to-man defense, Jordan and Sam Perkins go on to Syracuse, where their skids to the regional title were greased when the erstwhile hometown Orange was rudely eliminated by Ohio State, 79-74.