- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The lightning-quick Anders, inserted in the lineup for just such a chance, gambled for the steal and nearly made it, but Whittenburg whirled to cut off Anders with his body and started dribbling. Panicky now, Whittenburg searched for the basket and the scoreboard at the same time and found neither. Three seconds remained when he jumped and let fly approximately 35 feet from the goal.
"I was happy to see it go," Gannon remembered later. "I just hoped it wouldn't rebound long. All the time I saw Lo [Charles] wide open under the basket."
For the first time in three days Olajuwon was not under there, too. Said Charles, "When I jumped, I thought the ball was short. But Akeem didn't see me. He just stood there. He didn't even go up. He didn't even go up," Charles kept repeating. "I was up there all by myself."
Earlier in the week, the Phi Slamma Jammas had commanded attention as no team has in the recent history of the Final Four. Why, the careening Cougars even stole the spotlight from the host city, where under all that howling dust and tumbling tumbleweed beats a hospitality of pure gold. Or at least of silver and turquoise.
Olajuwon appeared at Friday's practice session as spiffy as could be in Walkman cassette waistband and matching earphones. "One thing bothers me in America," he said. "You people have wrong ideas about Nigeria. You think we live in huts. Lagos is a big city. We have Pat Benatar in Lagos." For sure, Olajuwon is no hick. When asked whether he preferred basketball or his native sport, soccer, Olajuwon replied basketball, "because of the media."
Before their astounding pick-your-favorite-dunk exhibition in their semifinal against Louisville, the Houston players upstaged the other semi, the Cinderella Bowl. That turned out to be an interminable 67-60 bore as Georgia's surprising Under-Dawgs withered under the attack of the poised Wolfpack.
Georgia began by missing 19 of its first 23 shots. Its best player, James Banks, could do no better than shoot three of 15 in the first half, and the Wolfpack took a 33-22 lead at intermission. With nearly 12 minutes left in the game, and State in the process of stretching its lead to 59-41, who should appear in the runway leading to the court but Phi Slamma Jamma. As the PSJs, already suited up in full uniform, filed into their front-row seats behind the N.C. State bench, a mighty roar went up from the Houston section.
About that time, the Dawgs abandoned the pound, climbed back into the game and prolonged the agony for everybody who had only showed up to watch the Houston Slamma Jammas and the Louisville Swatta Lottas. "I'm sitting there up 18 and composing my lines," said Valvano. "Then all of a sudden I got no lines left." No lines? Valvano? The guy who had called Saturday's double-header "the A game and the jayvees"? Perish the thought. From the time the Wolfpack surprised North Carolina and Virginia to win the ACC tournament, Rocco and Angelina's boy from Queens, despite wearing a truss to support a painful hernia, has been an instant legend just waiting for the next microphone.
Upon landing in Albuquerque, Valvano rushed off the team flight, sprinted into the teeth of the press and announced, "Welcome to the Jim Valvano Show." He said that he felt like Carnac the Magnificent and that, yes, he had held bed check and all the beds were still there. He also said he finished second in a dance contest at The Hungry Bear Thursday night—apparently his hernia didn't hamper his boogieing.
At some point between Valvano's monologues, the long-awaited Houston-Louisville duel finally edged its way onto center stage. Or, rather, was engraved onto history. The emotions, weaponry and dynamics of this confrontation were such that they may help explain what happened to the Cougars in the championship game.