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The Hogs had a variety of Thanksgiving Day experiences. Reserve Forward Greg Skulman, a predental student, had dinner with Anchorage dentist Darrel Kester. Before the meal Kester took Skulman and Gary Shutt of the Arkansas sports information office up for a spin in his plane, which he parks on a frozen lake behind his house. One member of the Arkansas party was having dinner with yet another local family when he smelled something peculiar and realized a joint was being circulated around the room (marijuana is decriminalized for home consumption only in Alaska). Oh, well, each of us must give thanks in his own way.
Arkansas Center Scott Hastings and Guard U.S. Reed joined three players from the Alaska-Anchorage team at the home of Bob and Fay Vogt. That afternoon Reed suffered the tournament's first documented Alaska-related injury. While chasing a hockey puck in a pair of tasteful beige street shoes on a neighborhood rink, U. fell unceremoniously on his S. At dinner Reed sampled roast moose meat and pronounced it "good."
Reed complained that his back was still sore before Friday's first-round game between the Razorbacks and Missouri, but if it was bothering him he kept it a closely guarded secret. Missouri would have been a fairly significant favorite if you were going by just about any preseason poll in the country, but the Tigers were destroyed by Reed and his running mate at guard, sophomore Darrell Walker. With Walker savaging the Missouri guards defensively and Hastings hitting his first six shots, the Razorbacks built a lead of 19-2. When Reed took a breakaway in for a 360-degree spinning slam the lead was 28-4, and by out-rebounding Missouri 16-2 in the first 13 minutes Arkansas extended its advantage to 31 points, 40-9. Reed and Walker also pioneered the flying tomahawk high-five from the tuck position, possibly the first real breakthrough in handslapping in the last several years. Missouri made a run at the Hogs in the second half as Guard Jon Sundvold poured in 18 points, but the Tigers still lost 81-73.
Carolina had been unimpressive while disposing of Alaska-Anchorage 69-50 in the opener. There had been more intensity in the pregame activity, when Tar Heels Coach Dean Smith complained about the ball being too new, moaned because he had been given the standard two vans to get to the arena—not three as he had requested—and griped because his team's warmup time was cut from 20 minutes to 17. "Prima donnas," huffed one tourney official.
While all that was going on, the LSU players and coaches were roaming the shores of the massive Cook Inlet in a bus, visiting a glacier here, a ski area there. At one point the players all poured out of the bus and had an impromptu snowball fight. When the driver signaled them to get back on board by sounding his air horn, the horn became stuck and bled all the air in the bus brakes. To allow the air pressure to build back up again, the driver had to turn off the engine, which was all right until it began to get cold. Every time the driver turned the engine back on, the horn blared and down went the air pressure. The Tigers found themselves shivering in their seats and conjuring up ghastly newspaper headlines such as BASKETBALL TEAM HONKED TO DEATH and, of course, BEEP BEEP DEEP DEEP SLEEP SLEEP. (Where is Robert Service when you really need him?) Just in the nick of time, along came Irma and Emery Shaw to the rescue. Irma and Emery had just the right tool to fix the balky horn, and Irma told everyone that she and her husband were from Jackson, Miss, and that she had attended LSU herself a long time ago. That made everyone feel a lot better. LSU had less trouble that night with Colgate, winning 79-61.
A lot of people said it wasn't right to have a bunch of sacrificial lambs like Colgate, Alaska-Anchorage and the Nicholls State Colonels—who were lambs led to slaughter at the hands of Georgetown in the first round, 80-58—but the lambs, to be candid, didn't seem to mind lying down with the lions. Jerry Sanders, the coach at Nicholls State, seemed downright ecstatic about its chance to be waxed by a team as good as the Hoyas. "We consider this a learning experience;" said the Colonels' Sanders.
North Carolina made it into the finals by exposing some glaring deficiencies in Georgetown's inside game and out-muscling the Hoyas 83-71. The Georgetown starting front line of Eric Smith, Ed Spriggs, and Mike Hancock was no match for Carolina's Al Wood (19 points), James Worthy (17 points, 13 rebounds) and freshman Center Sam Perkins (11 points, six rebounds). The Hoyas were badly out-rebounded, 42-24, and when Worthy came thundering to the offensive boards on his gimpy right ankle, Georgetown had no one strong enough to fend him off.
Arkansas started off quickly against LSU in the second semifinal game, and once again the Razorbacks got the desired result, opening a 23-11 margin midway through the first half. With LSU's Durand Macklin having his second successive miserable night—he sat out almost the entire second half—it was left to freshman Leonard Mitchell to haul the Tigers' lumpy carcass back into the game. Mitchell finished with 19 points, but he wasn't enough to get LSU over the hump when it closed to three points with only 1:28 left in the game. Hastings, who was his usual impeccable self with 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting, acknowledged that the Hogs were living high on physically superior teams. "We get each other up, and we really like to play together," Hastings said. "That's why we're beating these teams."
Togetherness may have gotten the Razorbacks into the championship game, but it wasn't enough against a team as gifted and as deep as North Carolina. The Tar Heels came into the tournament full of questions about themselves, and went home knowing the answer: James Worthy. The sophomore forward missed most of last season with a broken bone in his right ankle and had been unable to practice more than two days in a row this fall before he would start limping. The weather in Alaska chilled the metal screws in his ankle, he said, and tendinitis in the same leg bothered him, too. But somehow ol' James just hobbled himself and the Heels to the championship, 64-58, and Smith just sat on the bench and smiled. He knew all along those Heels were good.
Arkansas opened in a man-to-man defense, but Worthy hit three of his first four shots and Carolina jumped off to a 14-4 lead six minutes into the game, forcing Arkansas into a zone. "I bet our assistants we wouldn't last 10 minutes in a man-to-man," said Sutton later, "and we didn't."