The result, of course, wasn't worth an ash off Dean Smith's cigarette. It's too early. We play them again. Hey, there are too many good teams around to get worked up over one win. "It's basically going to be a fans' game," Virginia's Ralph Sampson had said two days before tip-off. "It's exciting for them but just another game for us."
What it was, quipped John Feinstein of The Washington Post, was "this week's game of the century."
And, really, after it was all over at Chapel Hill last Saturday afternoon, after North Carolina had kept another challenger from scaling the fortress, what had been wrought? Well, plenty. The game gave the whole country an opportunity to watch the No. 1 Tar Heels hook up with the No. 2 Cavaliers via TV in a suspenseful showdown. It proved that the 7'4" Sampson can be a devastating offensive force. And, as North Carolina came from behind to win 65-60, the game embellished Dean Smith's reputation as a master strategist. The Tar Heels' 11th victory without a loss gave them undisputed claim to the No. 1 spot in the polls they have enjoyed since the preseason. Twice now North Carolina has beaten its closest pursuer in the rankings. Both Virginia and Kentucky, which fell to Carolina 82-69 on Dec. 26, were undefeated and ranked No. 2 when they played the Tar Heels.
The imprint of the game will remain, not because it was a masterpiece—both sides were guilty of shaky backcourt play—but because so many exceptional players were involved, leading men not only for the present but also for the next few years. For North Carolina there was, enduringly, the Coach, who demonstrated the respect he commands in Chapel Hill with a brief announcement over the public-address system. More on Smith later. There was Michael Jordan, the Natural, a graceful 6'5" freshman who has been subject to endless media comparisons with such ACC stars of the past as David Thompson, Walter Davis and Al Wood. And there was the fierce four-armed, multitalented Worthy-Perkins, a creature who could be the biggest factor in Smith's drive for his first NCAA crown.
For Virginia, there was the backcourt tandem of Jeff Jones and Coatlen Othell Wilson, the former a steady, heady player from Kentucky, the latter a fast, free flier from suburban Washington, D.C. There was Jim Miller, an aw-shucks freshman from the hills of West Virginia and a dabbler in magic, who next summer expects to be pulling basketballs out of his Ronald McDonald suit. Finally, there was, supremely, the 88-inch tailor from Harrisonburg, Va., Ralph Sampson.
College basketball, even when played in The Land of the Four Corners, rarely unfolds according to the script, and this game was no exception. The Cavaliers had relied on balance and depth, with the proud Sampson content to dish off and score about 15 points a game, while Coach Terry Holland gave substantial playing time to no fewer than nine men. Of course, you can do that when you're beating Fairfield 107-66 or BYU-Hawaii 118-84. But on Saturday Sampson kept the ball and put it up—and down, dunking with either hand—for 30 points. He also had 19 rebounds. No other Virginia player got more than seven points or four rebounds.
But Sampson couldn't quite complete the personal epic he'd been building. With 4:01 to go and Virginia up 54-53, he missed two free throws. Trailing 61-58 with 15 seconds left, the Cavaliers went inside to Sampson even though Smith had the entire state of North Carolina collapsing on him—a defense called a point-and-one, a matchup zone variation on the old box-and-one. Sampson missed on a drive in the crowded lane and then missed the follow-up. North Carolina took possession and clinched the game with two free throws at 0:12.
The Tar Heels had defeated tougher competition (Kansas, Southern Cal, Tulsa and Kentucky) than Virginia had faced, with a first five that may develop into one of the school's best ever. Only Point Guard Jimmy Black is a senior. Often criticized in the past for oversubstituting, Smith knew almost from the first day of preseason practice that this time he would have to live or die with his starters. Indeed, the Cavs believed that depth was their biggest asset. But it was the pressure shooting of North Carolina's sixth man, Jim Braddock, that decided the issue on Saturday.
Smith's P.A. appearance, which followed a foul call on the Tar Heels' James Worthy with 13:27 remaining, wasn't in the script, either. The Carmichael Auditorium crowd had no sooner begun the popular rhythmic cheer about the waste material of a large farm animal when Smith went to the scorer's table, grabbed a microphone, and said, "No swearing. And no waving hands like that. Let's treat them the right way!" The fans, properly chastened, applauded and shut up. It was the first time in his 20-year career at Chapel Hill that Smith had washed out a crowd's mouth with soap.
"I'm no prude," said Smith, somewhat embarrassed by the postgame attention given the incident, "but I don't think there's a place for that kind of thing. Hey, you're not going to write that that had anything to do with the game, are you? Our players were the reason we won."