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Back in real life, most coaches' predictions were based on some obvious characteristics of the teams. Arizona State's Bob Weinhauer opted for Georgetown's quickness, Las Vegas' Jerry Tarkanian preferred Virginia's experience. A number of experts polled by the The Washington Post seemed to side with Georgetown even though Virginia went off as a 2½-point favorite with the oddsmakers. "Georgetown does a few more things with getting Ewing the ball, and Sampson doesn't seem to want it," said Tennessee Coach Don DeVoe. "Sampson doesn't always work hard. He's the kind of player who can get lost sometimes."
Boston College Coach Gary Williams summed up the consensus, however, when asked which center he'd choose to start a team. "Because I'm a good guy," Williams said, "I'll take the one who's left."
Thompson had prepared his kiddie corps for judgment day by combing the atlas for early opponents. Georgetown opened the season with a 72-51 victory over the BYU-Hawaii Seasiders at Laie—"We could have lost that one," Thompson said with an attempt at a straight face—and last Wednesday night the Hoyas defeated Alabama State 99-76 as the Georgetown rooters, instead of begging for 100, yelled, "We want Ralph!"
Later that same evening, approximately 300 miles away in Durham, N.C., Virginia was warming up for its game against Duke when the hosts' student section began chanting "Georgetown! Georgetown! Georgetown!" When some Virginia supporters showed up at the bench clad in the school's bright orange colors, the Dookies clamored "Tacky! Tacky! Tacky!" On the floor the Cavaliers couldn't help breaking up.
After Virginia beat Duke 104-91, nobody would admit that the Cavs may have been looking ahead. But there were signs. Way back in October, Virginia Reserve Guard Doug Newburg had taken to wearing an old T shirt under his practice jersey. Cold, Doug? "The Ewing look," Newburg said. On campus people would stop Wilson and ask if he was ready for the big game. "What big game?" Wilson would reply. The weekend before Duke, Sampson and Forward Jimmy Miller had gone over to Carlisle's apartment to watch the telecast of the Georgetown-Western Kentucky game. Georgetown narrowly prevailed in overtime after Ewing slammed home a rebound of a missed free throw and finished with a career high of 30 points. "It's been hard not to keep pondering Georgetown," Carlisle said, smiling. "We've been following their scores."
Against Duke the Cavaliers were more than preoccupied with Georgetown as they fell behind by 12 points in the first half. This was the first ACC game played under the new rules (a 30-second clock and a 19-foot three-point line), and early on the Virginia players actually looked worn out. "I couldn't catch my breath sometimes," Sampson said. "I don't think I was running well or playing good defense for my standards." Sampson recovered to accumulate 36 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks—but this was against a team whose front line is predominately freshman and not a one over 6'8". With that big lead, under the old rules, Duke could have maneuvered into a delay game and seriously threatened a hesitant Virginia.
The game also provided grist for the theory that ACC-style basketball, Virginia style, a finesse approach tending at times toward passivity, wouldn't serve the Cavaliers well against the intense, physical Georgetown bunch. The team played "soft" against Duke, often turned its collective head on defense and avoided going for the jugular. "We haven't gotten to where we want to be," Sampson said.
Everyone knew that the Hoyas were searching, too. Their point guard and backcourt leader, junior Fred Brown, had tried to play on his injured right knee against Alabama State, but he was in obvious pain. Thompson and Brown talked it over: The most experienced Hoya wouldn't play against Virginia.
Moreover, in Georgetown's first six games the team hadn't gotten enough outside points from the slumping Anthony Jones. This, in turn, gave greater scoring responsibility to Michael Jackson, a more offensively oriented freshman, and kept defensive specialist Gene Smith as a reserve. "I recruited Smith to be a substitute anyway," Thompson said. So now he was starting an all-rookie backcourt of Jackson and Wingate, which seemed to present Virginia with a substantial edge at the guards.
But, of course, who cared? "When you talk about the pure significance of the game," Thompson said, "it's very insignificant." This from a representative of the same school whose athletic director, Frank Rienzo, peddled the TV rights to the game to the Turner Broadcasting System so astutely that Georgetown wound up with a bundle.