Virginia would seem vulnerable to such pressure were it not for one man—and he isn't Sampson. The key figure in this game, in fact, may be Othell Coatlen Wilson, Virginia's lead guard, who has the body of a Herschel Walker and hits the hole just as hard. The 198-pound Wilson is the college game's only 6'0" intimidator. North Carolina Coach Dean Smith has said Wilson "should be arrested for assault." Because of Sampson's fame and Wilson's injury just when he stood to get some tournament exposure last March—a truck must have run over him—Wilson is something of a national secret. But he shoots, scores, passes, breaks presses, defends and simply holds the entire team together. Virginia would be—and has been—lost without him.
Not only should Wilson be able to handle the Hoya press, but if Ewing isn't careful, Wilson may also be able to victimize him. Wilson has a specialty that infuriates bigger men—let's call it the sneak-up rebound takeaway. "Against us he must have created five or six baskets by himself with those steals off rebounds," says Louisville Assistant Coach Jerry Jones. As the Virginia shot goes up, Wilson weaves through the underpinnings of the massed defensive rebounders, and just as the ball is controlled by an opponent, he snatches it away to set up a quick Virginia score.
Traditionally, Virginia's offense has worked outside-in, with Holland attempting to involve everyone in the proceedings before turning to Sampson, who usually has been multicovered anyway. Against Ewing, however, Sampson may be turned loose early to see just what the other fellow has to offer. As North Carolina found out, that is quite a lot. "I hope he plays me man for man," Sampson says. "I would enjoy that." This would mean Sampson hooking inside; Sampson on the banked turnaround; Sampson floating to 12 feet for the sky-jumper; Sampson driving—clash the cymbals for this one, boys—for the windjammer stuff; Sampson anywhere and everywhere. Ewing may reject a few shots, but it's difficult to imagine his containing the varied arsenal of his inventive protagonist for very long. "Ewing has to bump him and bother him and keep Sampson away from where he wants to go," says Pinone. "The man can bury a layup from 12 feet. If Ralph gets close, I don't care who you are, it's two points."
Brown of George Washington predicts: "If Ralph stays inside, Ewing will try to muscle and intimidate him and give him his 'bows [elbows]. If Pat cheap-shots him—and he will—I think I know how Ralph will react. He won't bother 'bowin' back or fighting. He'll just go outside and beat him bad."
The last man, the only man, to guard Sampson head up was Ohio State's Herb Williams. Sampson was a sophomore. Williams, now an established pro, was a senior. On national television on Super Sunday Sampson went for a cool 40 points. Williams later said, "Ralph embarrassed my coach."
Not long after the arrangements for the Virginia-Georgetown game had been completed, Thompson was teasing Ewing, saying that Sampson would "probably eat you up." Ewing stretched his arms up over his head, stared at the skies and said, "Coach, I will ask all the gods of Jamaica to help us."
Obviously, despite his marvelous individual defensive skills, even Ewing recognizes that he may need major aid. Thompson may have Ewing front Sampson in a 131 for a portion of the game, constantly reminding Ewing to keep in body contact with Sampson and to watch for the lob pass and beseeching his weak-side forwards to be cognizant of picks and screens on Ewing. In addition, the Georgetown defense must overplay Sampson toward the lane in hope of forcing him to shoot going toward the baseline and out of rebounding position. "Al McGuire says Ralph will drive right by Patrick," Thompson says, smiling. "But if he does and gets the basket, it won't be Patrick's fault. We'll be playing team defense."
Holland insists he'll let his men run with Georgetown; every other word in the Cavalier practices this fall was "attack." In opposition, Thompson says he won't be adverse to slowing the game down if the situation so dictates. What switches these would be!
Inevitably, however, victory must go to the team whose center can impose his will upon the contest first and last and in a way that will prove who is truly the best big man in college. Though they may face each other again in the NCAA championships, this game will follow Sampson and Ewing into the pros and for the rest of their lives, simply because it is the first one. That will be a heavy burden to carry.
But for Ewing the load will be lighter. He's the younger, the less established, the one with more time, the defenseman—he doesn't have to put big numbers on the board to maintain his worth. The pressure, the onus, the game itself is mostly on the shoulders of Sampson, the offensive force, whose team will be favored, to boot. Just the fact that Sampson once again turned down millions of pro dollars and chose to return to Virginia for his fourth year may be a manifestation of the level of his desire.