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When a future edition of Trivial Pursuit asks what factor finally decided the nuclear slamathon between Akeem Abdul Olajuwon of Nigeria/Houston and Patrick Ewing of Jamaica/Georgetown in the year of our Face, 1984, it would be wise to answer: support. Because while Olajuwon barely gave or received any in the NCAA final Monday night in Seattle, Ewing benefited from the help of such a variety of athletes that it was difficult to keep track of who was doing what on his marvelous Georgetown team. Whoops, here comes the duck again. Did someone say the Hoya magic word—team?
"Sit down so I can see," Houston coach Guy V. Lewis shouted at his assistants toward the end of the 84-75 win that gave Georgetown 34 victories this season (the most since Kentucky's 36 in 1947-48), along with the Hoyas' first national championship. But would better visibility for Guy V. have helped?
Forget Georgetown coach John Thompson and academic coordinator Mary Fenlon: the first black coach to win the title and the first woman "assistant" to grace a championship bench. Forget, if you will, even Ewing and the familiar collective attitude that has made the Hoyas into the Boys of Simmer. Was that 6'9" freshman Michael Graham, the leering lefthander, practically tearing down the rims? Or Bill Martin? Was that 6'7" freshman Reggie Williams floating in and out of the Houston halfcourt traps as fast as you can say David Wingate? Or was that David Wingate? Was that 6'1" Michael (Not That One) Jackson breakdancing around and virtually under the taller Cougars? Or Horace Broadnax? As the 7-foot juniors Ewing (10 points, nine rebounds and four blocks) and Olajuwon (15, nine and one) fought to a foul-plagued standstill—specifically, Olajuwon did a lot of standing still, looking for the ball and grumbling when his teammates didn't give it to him—it was the crucial 50 collective minutes of work by freshman subs Graham and Williams, who between them had 33 points and 12 rebounds, that probably spelled the difference. Then again Martin and Wingate combined for 22 points in 48 minutes. Who was who? Phi Slamma Jamma may still be wondering.
The simple truth is Georgetown won the championship with as deep and versatile a collection of players as the NCAA tournament has ever known. And the Hoyas have just begun. Go ahead and expand the 1985 field to 4,000 teams and play till July. In its two games in Seattle, Georgetown had 57 baskets, and the scorers of 54 of those are coming back next year. "I play against a lot of good players," Ewing said when asked to evaluate his longtime-no-see rival, Olajuwon, "especially in practice."
Houston opened the championship game as if it was taking target practice, the Cougars nailing seven shots in a row to lead 14-6. But Georgetown was in a zone and feeling the absence of its emotional defensive leader, senior guard Gene Smith, who was out with a strained arch suffered in the Hoyas' 53-40 semifinal blowout of Kentucky. As Houston's Reid Gettys would say later, "Perimeter shots aren't exactly our Sunday punch." Or Monday. Smith never did play, but Georgetown switched to man-to-man pressure with Wingate on the Cougars' Michael Young, who had hit three straight baskets. Young promptly delivered two air balls, and the Hoyas scored 18 of the next 22 points. During that stretch, while Ewing and Olajuwon, in Ewing's words, "felt each other out," a frustrated Young exploded downcourt intent on squashing a dunk upon Ewing, who stood his ground as Young crash-landed on the Hoya's solar plexus. Young was whistled for charging, and he missed the dunk besides. Olajuwon, who was open under the basket, chastised his teammate as they ran off the floor for a time-out.
Alas, as Georgetown took a 40-30 halftime lead; as Olajuwon picked up his third and fourth fouls in the last 49 seconds of the first half and first 23 of the second; as the Cougars resorted to an offense consisting solely of guard Alvin Franklin's triple-pumping, off-balance vaudeville jumpers in the lane; the pattern held. The Hoyas sent wave upon wave of players into the fray, all of whom were bent on helping one another, while Houston was forced to play catch-up with a catch-as-catch-can style. "They play team ball, the way it's supposed to be played," Akeem the Steam would say. "We play selfish. I was open and my teammates said they missed me. But how many times can they miss me?"
"This was a battle of the benches. How can the man [Lewis] forget the athletes he has on the bench?" said Benny Anders, who got 10 minutes of action after DNP-ing in the semis. In all, the Houston subs saw 29½ minutes of light; the Hoya bench played for 74½.
"When Akeem's on the inside, he can't see what's going on with all those guys around him," said Young, who missed 13 of his last 18 shots.
"I told Akeem we were trying to get him the ball," Lewis said. "Damn! He still does't know the game. Benny? We don't pay attention to that."
Just one big happy family.