Villanova’s miraculous 1985 NCAA championship: An oral history
On March 2, 1985, the Villanova men’s basketball team closed its regular season with an 85-62 road loss to Pittsburgh on national TV, a defeat that dropped the Wildcats to 18-9 on the season.
Thirty days later, on April 1, that same Villanova team, led by coach Rollie Massimino, cut down the nets after beating Big East rival Georgetown — a defending national champion thought to be perhaps one of college basketball’s all-time elite teams — in one of the most exciting and memorable championship games of all time.
To this day, the No. 8 seed Wildcats remain the lowest-seeded team to win the NCAA tournament, and in honor of the 30th anniversary of Villanova’s magical championship run, FOX Sports brought together the ’85 Villanova team and coaching staff to tell the story of the unlikeliest NCAA title in history, straight from the mouths of the men who lived it.
END OF REGULAR SEASON/BIG EAST TOURNAMENT/SELECTION SUNDAY
ROLLIE MASSIMINO, head coach: We were losing pretty badly against Pittsburgh, and I told everyone at halftime that they’d have five minutes to play in the second half, and if you don’t play a little better and a lot harder, you’re going to be taken out.
MITCH BUONAGURO, assistant coach: After maybe a couple minutes (in the second half), Rollie called a timeout and he still didn’t like the way we were playing, the energy level. So he said, ‘I’m going to give you a minute,’ and then it got worse. So he took the five starters out and we basically played the last 17 minutes with our second team.
R.C. MASSIMINO, jr., reserve guard: If my father said it, he meant it. There’s no doubt about that, and I think anybody on the team would tell you that. If we had practices where guys didn’t practice hard, he’d kick us out. He’d tell you to go home, whether it was one guy or the whole team. He was pretty serious about those kinds of things. He demanded that guys worked hard.
HARRY BOOTH, assistant coach: Later, Rollie said, ‘I needed the seniors to show leadership to the rest of the team, and they just didn’t do it.’
CONNALLY BROWN, so., reserve forward: You don’t want to diminish your chances of getting into the tournament, because that’s the ultimate goal. So we looked at it, when the starters were having a bad day, like coming in to try to do what they could not. We knew we had a job to do and tried our best to do it, but honestly, it was a game that we were lucky just to get through.
R.C. MASSIMINO: I think I had six points, which might have been the most I ever had in a game, and it was funny, because the second team ended up getting named the CBS Player of the Game, which was crazy considering how that game went.
WYATT MAKER, so., reserve center: It was fun to get in there and compete, but it was definitely a wake-up call for our starting five and the top seven guys who were playing.
MARK PLANSKY, fr., reserve forward: I was actually the only guy on the team that did not play in that Pittsburgh blowout, and that’s because I had arthroscopic surgery on my knee a couple days before. But after the game, everyone thought that was it, Coach Mass kind of threw it away. It was like, ‘What are you doing? We’re never going to make the tournament now.’
Quite frankly, that’s what was amazing to me about the Pittsburgh game. Coach Mass knew he might be playing for a tournament berth, nevermind the seed, and he never compromised his values.
BRIAN HARRINGTON, sr., reserve guard: Quite frankly, that’s what was amazing to me about the Pittsburgh game. Coach Mass knew he might be playing for a tournament berth, nevermind the seed, and he never compromised his values.
CHUCK EVERSON, jr., reserve center: Everybody was down about it afterward, but the good news was we knew we had another shot at Pittsburgh in the first round of the Big East tournament (five days later).
ED PINCKNEY, sr., center: We turned around and beat Pitt (69-61) in the first round of the Big East, but the very next game, we played St. John’s and got blown out in that game too (89-74). So in our last three games before the tournament, we’d been blown out twice.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I really thought we’d at least have to get to the semifinals of the Big East (to make the NCAA tournament), but we only got to the quarterfinals, so the loss to St. John’s was tough.
BUONAGURO: Our record that year was very misleading because our schedule was very difficult, and night in and night out we played like an NCAA team. We had 10 losses and if you look at the 10 losses, all of them were to NCAA teams. Two were very close to Georgetown, who was probably the best team in the country, and we had three losses to St. John’s, who was usually No. 1 or No. 2 and was probably as good as anybody.
EVERSON: Every year for Selection Sunday, Coach Mass would bring us in and we’d have hero sandwiches and make it a big thing and we’d have a room where it was just our guys and people close to the team. We were all on pins and needles as to whether we were going to make it or not, and I don’t think anybody realized that they expanded to 64 teams that year (from 53).
PINCKNEY: Massimino had said that if we had to go to the NIT, then he wasn’t sure we were even going to do that. So, the seniors, we’re all thinking that we hope we get in because if we don’t then what do we have left? We have a senior season in which we sort of let all of the other players who have been here before us down. We’d have been a disgrace to the school.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: Fortunately, we got lucky and it was early on when our name got called, so we didn’t have to wait long.
PINCKNEY: They call our name — "Villanova" — and now we’re saying, "OK, where are we going?" Because we knew we weren’t going to play close to home, not in our region. Then we find out, "Oh, we get to go to Dayton to play Dayton on Dayton’s home floor." Everybody was thinking, "How in the world do you get a draw like that?"
DWAYNE MCCLAIN, sr., forward: We felt we may have been somewhat slighted, but it was a release just to be selected, and I didn’t really care where they put us. I just wanted to play.
HAROLD JENSEN, so., guard: Fortunately, one of the things that Coach Mass did during the tournament, which to me was just brilliant, was he didn’t give us the feeling of it being a pressure situation. He wanted us to be excited about it, he wanted us to look at it as a great opportunity — he always referred to it as a new season, starting fresh — and he kept it so positive that I think the fact that we got in was all we wanted.
FIRST ROUND: (8) VILLANOVA 51, (9) DAYTON 49
PINCKNEY: Stew Granger, Mike Mulquin and John Pinone set a standard for Dwayne, Gary and myself that you don’t lose in the first round. They would adamantly talk about it and say, "We don’t care who we play, we are not losing that game." So we all felt that way any time we went into a tournament because that’s what we were taught.
DWIGHT WILBUR, jr., guard: The whole time that we were getting ready for Dayton, Coach Mass — I don’t want to say he was in a bad mood, because he never gets mad during tournament time; in fact the only time we could mess around and not get in trouble was during tournament time. But he was upset that Dayton got a home game.
STEVE PINONE, so., reserve forward: The difference between the media then and now was a benefit to us. In this day and age, you’d have the talking heads on TV screaming about it and we wouldn’t have been able to avoid it. But Coach Mass did a good job of trying not making a big deal out of it.
HARRINGTON: We really didn’t know much about Dayton other than the fact that they clearly had good players and were a disciplined team. I think the unknown and their talent and style of play made it one of the toughest games of the tournament.
PINCKNEY: I wasn’t like, "OK, we’ve seen Sedric Toney on TV every other weekend." We never saw them play. All we knew is that we played in the Big East, and they’re Dayton. So they ain’t Georgetown, they’re not St. John’s, and they can’t possibly be as tough as those teams.
GARY MCLAIN, sr., guard: Sedric Toney, he was one of my counterparts at Five-Star basketball camp. He was like a little fullback, and there were a lot of interesting components in his game. I just had to make sure I stayed within myself and didn’t get out of my game if he scored a couple times on me. It wasn’t me against Sedric, it was Villanova against Dayton.
JENSEN: They were a very good team that had gone to the regional final as a 10-seed the year before and won a lot of games that year, so we knew that, even though they were a nine-seed, it was going to be difficult.
HAROLD PRESSLEY, jr., forward: When we ran out onto the court, the crowd was going nuts already. It was the last game of the night and it was full and they were there to support their team and they were just on top of us. It was loud as could be and it was very exciting, but there was no mistaking who they were there for. It was shaking inside.
All I remember is thinking that we had to really get out to a good start because we don’t want their fans to get involved any more than they already were.
PINCKNEY: All I remember is thinking that we had to really get out to a good start because we don’t want their fans to get involved any more than they already were.
The first half of the game was a low-scoring affair. Pinckney scored Villanova’s first six points, and Villanova took a 13-8 lead, but it was Dayton that grabbed a 23-21 edge going into halftime. After a Villanova three-second violation with 52 seconds left, Dayton attempted to drain the clock for one final shot — there was no shot clock at the time — but Villanova stole the ball with less than five seconds to go. The steal led to a Dwight Wilbur breakaway, and he appeared as though he would tie the game before the half, but Wilbur slipped and fell to the floor, losing control of the ball as time expired.
ROB WILSON, student manager: Dwight, he had some knee issues along the way, and the floor at Dayton at the time was one of those Tartan all-purpose floors. He looked at that and essentially psyched himself out. He was saying, "I can’t play on that, it’s going to damage my knees," and it wound up, I think, draining his confidence before he ever played a game.
PINONE: After the half, no one really got out to any big leads (the largest was a six-point advantage for Villanova, at 43-37). It was a two- or four-point game, back and forth the whole way, and it really came down to the last possession. They made all 17 of their free throws (Dayton played in the bonus for the final 14 minutes of the game), but I don’t think the adversity of them doing it rattled us in any way. We just sustained what we were doing, and in the end we made a couple plays.
STEVE LAPPAS, assistant coach: (Dayton coach Don) Donoher was such a great coach with no clock, and they were holding the ball with the score tied (at 49-49, with three minutes left in the game). Then Pres stole the ball from Anthony Grant in the corner (with 2:40 to go).
PRESSLEY: It was really just a matter of where (Grant) had the ball. It was really wide open, right in my face, like, "I know you can’t take this." I was almost like, "Please, are you serious? I’ve got quick hands. I’m a defensive specialist." It wasn’t a difficult thing; it was there and I took it, and that’s all there was to it. It wasn’t anything magical, I just reached out and grabbed the ball.
BUONAGURO: That was the play that turned the game, that steal. They were holding the ball and it kind of turned the momentum around. They had gone to a delay and we were the ones who were able to convert.
PRESSLEY: I actually went to Taiwan with Coach Donoher several months after that (playing in the William Jones Cup) and he said, "Harold, if it wasn’t for Dwayne McClain stealing that ball, it might have been us going to the Final Four." And I said, "Coach, that wouldn’t have happened because I stole it, not Dwayne." We actually had a little wager between us, with Villanova items, hat and T-shirts, versus a Dayton hat and T-shirt, and so a week after we got back, I received a box of Dayton Flyers stuff in the mail with a letter saying, "Yep, you were the one that destroyed us."
JENSEN: After the steal, we were holding the ball down the stretch and really looking for that last score. We had held the ball for a little while in kind of a four corners set, and tried a little bit to get some penetration, but typically they would cut it off.
PLANSKY: Then, Jens being Jens, he just kind of ignored the instructions of delaying game and went in for a shot and made the layup, and that, ironically, was what launched him into the next five games.
JENSEN: When I turned the corner and started to go toward the bucket, I realized that nobody had dropped off to help out and I was able to take one more hard dribble and get to the basket and lay it in. That was really always our goal in any situation like that: If we have a layup, let’s take it, and if not, then let’s continue to work the clock. There was an opportunity there and I found a seam kind of right up the gut, and nobody helped out soon enough, so I just went all the way and gave us the go-ahead.
EVERSON: It looked like it was going to roll out and it rolled back in. That ball came right to the edge of the rim, and if it doesn’t go in, who knows if we even go on?
MARTY MARBACH, assistant coach: Harold Jensen, far as I’m concerned, was the key guy throughout the entire tournament. It was like the light bulb went on. Here’s a kid that used to hyperventilate and took everything so seriously and was previously in a shooting slump, and Coach Mass had just done a great job of getting him to relax. We were not anticipating what he did at all.
Still, Dayton had 1:07 to try to rally. Damon Goodwin (16 points) had been the team’s top scorer, but Toney (12 points) was the team’s best player and took twice as many shots as anyone else on the Flyers during the game, but after a timeout with 27 seconds left it was was reserve guard Dan Christie, who played just seven minutes in the game, who took and missed a long jumper from the wing with 15 seconds left. Larry Schellenberg grabbed the rebound and passed to Goodwin in the post. Goodwin then passed the ball out to Toney, whose jumper from the top of the key rimmed out with three seconds left.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I’d see Sedric Toney sometimes because he was a scout, and he says, "Coach, I was supposed to take the first shot," but he didn’t. The other kid took it, and his try missed. He thinks that if he took it, they’d have won the game.
EVERSON: What’s funny is (after Pinckney missed a 1-and-1 free throw), they had the ball with one second left and had to go the length of the court. I had not played up until that point, but now I have to go in and guard the out of bounds guy, so now he has to throw it over me, at seven feet tall. In the timeout, Coach is looking at me saying, "Don’t screw this up, they’re going to try to take a charge on you. They’re going to run the baseline and you’re going to run and somebody’s going to step in front of you, and if you run this guy over, you’re finished, that’s it, you’re dead." They didn’t end up doing that, but once we won the game, everybody was coming over and congratulating me for not screwing up the out of bounds play at the end.
PINONE: The tournament is one of two extremes. Either it’s all over or you get another opportunity. It’s not like the regular season where you can say, "Well, we’ll figure it out by Saturday" if you lose on Wednesday night. Everything is on the line, so obviously the joy and exultation we felt was equal to the despair that Dayton felt when Toney’s shot spun out.
LAPPAS: Honestly, we were just happy to get out of there alive.
SECOND ROUND: (8) VILLANOVA 59, (1) MICHIGAN 55
BUONAGURO: Michigan was way more talented than Dayton, top five in the country, and we were the underdog, but never at any point going into that game did we think we couldn’t beat them, and that was the secret to the tournament. Rollie really made the kids believe they were better than they were. He never once made the kids feel like this was impossible.
BOOTH: Michigan, and later on, Memphis, were just two teams that felt, in my mind, that, "Who is Villanova?" They thought, "We’re just going to go out on the court and beat them," and they underestimated what our kids brought to the table: the way they played and how hard they played. They were the kind of teams we liked to play.
HARRINGTON: Once we got past Dayton, my thinking was, "It’s all house money at this point," and if you’re going to play, you might as well play a No. 1 seed. At some point we’re going to have to play these caliber of teams, so why not now?
MCCLAIN: A very good friend of mine, Larry Hampton, played on the Fairleigh Dickinson team (which lost to Michigan 59-55 in the first round), and he told us that we would be very successful when we played against them, and Larry was right. We knew they were young and we probably worried about that game less than any other team we played in the tournament.
PINCKNEY: Michigan had maybe one senior (Leslie Rockymore; the only other senior, Gerard Rudy, was not a regular rotation player) and the rest of the four players were underclassmen. Antoine Joubert (sophomore), Gary Grant (freshman), Roy Tarpley (junior), they’re all young, So we’re saying, "How are we going to allow a team like this beat us?" We would look at teams and be like, "That guy is not Roosevelt Bouie, that guy is not Patrick Ewing, so there’s no way." And that’s kind of how we felt. We were like, "You guys are good, but you’re freshmen. You have no idea what this tournament is like."
PINONE: They were physically imposing — Roy Tarpley was 6-11 and Butch Wade was a big, wide body and (Richard) Rellford was big and strong like Joubert — but I don’t think our guys were intimidated by them as basketball players. They looked the part, and looked like a big football school, but from a basketball sense, I think we were pretty confident.
After Pinckney scored a game-high 20 points in Villanova’s first-round win over Dayton, Michigan double-teamed the big man for most of the game and limited him to 14 points and four field goal attempts. McClain, a fellow senior, stepped up, scoring 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
PINCKNEY: Dwayne was our most athletic player, so we would all go into these games, and other teams would say, "This guy is a great athlete," and we’d sit back and say, "I don’t know if they’ve seen Dwayne McClain, but boy, when they get a hold of him, it’s going to be an eye-opener."
MCCLAIN: As a senior in the NCAA tournament, you lose you go home. So if someone wants to double Ed, we had good enough players around him to handle that. Whether it was Harold Pressley or Harold Jensen, Gary McLain, myself, Dwight Wilbur, we felt that if anyone gave us an advantage like that … yes you’re taking away our best player, but at the same time, you have to sacrifice something to do it, and that left me open on the perimeter and I made them pay.
MARBACH: You know how coaches have it in their mind how someone should shoot the ball or the form they should have? When Dwayne came to Villanova, he had this swing shot, over-the-head, rubber band type of jump shot and Coach Mass did try to change it, but it got to a point where him trying to change it wasn’t going to work, and the ball was going in. So Dwayne had a very unorthodox left handed jump shot, but he was very, very confident.
PINONE: Dwayne McClain was the kind of guy who, even if you were playing him in gin rummy or ping pong or darts, he was a competitor, just a winner. I don’t want to say he was in the shadow, but so much of the talk in the Big East was about Patrick Ewing or Chris Mullin or Pearl Washington, and Eddie Pinckney would get his share of that, too. And I think Dwayne was kind of like, "Hey, I’m a senior too, and I’ve had a really good career here, and I’m going to show everyone how I can play."
Villanova outplayed Michigan in the first half, but the Wildcats didn’t score a point for nearly eight minutes to start the second half, and saw a 30-26 halftime advantage turn into a 35-30 deficit. However, Villanova took the lead back at 38-37 with 7:32 to play and never trailed again. Michigan’s star freshman, Grant, was held scoreless for the game and Joubert scored just four points in the first half. In the frontcourt, Tarpley scored just two of his 14 points after the half.
PRESSLEY: Our game plan was to pack it in on Tarpley and be aware of Grant, not letting him get to the hole, and obviously it worked to perfection. Not only did (Tarpley) not get the ball, but he wasn’t able to go get offensive rebounds and putbacks and that kind of stuff. Iit was a masterful scouting job to know exactly how to play against those guys in particular.
MARBACH: Sometimes we get too much credit for what happens, but if you change defenses and make it difference for the entry pass and it makes the other team tentative, and once they get tentative, that’s when you gain the advantage.
BOOTH: Gary played Grant a lot in that Michigan game, man-to-man, when we mixed up our defenses. So even though we knew how good he was, he was still a freshman, and when you’re playing under the pressure of the NCAA tournament, when things don’t go right for you right away, that sometimes happens.
MCLAIN: At that point of time, in my limber days, my defense was spectacular. I was all over Gary Grant and I happened to talk a little bit on the court, so if I could take your game away along with your whole mental capacity to be in this thing, I felt free to do so.
WILBUR: There was a comment that was made about how Coach (Bill) Frieder at the time was complaining that we were being a little bit more rough than the Big Ten. And I was like, ‘We’re being rough on your team?’ We were just being Villanova.
With just over four minutes left, Villanova took a 46-43 lead, and Massimino had his players shift into a four corners delay game.
PINCKNEY: All coaches have a signal for their team when they feel confident that the game is going into their favor. Every team has it, and that was it for us. And Massimino would tell Gary during a dead ball, he’d whisper to Gary, that "We have enough." And then what Gary would do is he’d take the ball out and bounce it up real high and then just wave his hands, and that was the signal. When he did that, I don’t know if we’d ever lost a game after he did that. When he said that, we could either be ahead or behind, but whenever Massimino said that, it was just over. The game was over.
LAPPAS: There was no question that after we got by Michigan, we kind of said, "Hey, why not?"
EVERSON: The first time I felt like we might be on to something special was that game. Our trainer was Jake Nevin, and Jake was kind of our good luck charm and he looked like a little Leprechaun to begin with. Jake had Lou Gehrig’s disease and was in a wheelchair at the time, and the game was played on St. Patrick’s Day. So Jake said, "When I’m confident that we’re going to win this game, I’m going to put on a little plastic leprechaun hat." So he puts this hat on with, I don’t know, three or four minutes left in the game. He’s wearing the hat, and CBS got a picture of him wearing the hat, and that’s when I knew that we must have some strange forces at work. We had our own leprechaun, and no one else did.
SWEET 16: (8) VILLANOVA 46, (5) MARYLAND 43
During the regular season, Villanova lost a game to Maryland at Maryland. The Terps beat the Wildcats 77-74 in that contest behind a then-career high 30 points from star forward Len Bias. In that game, Pinckney scored 29 points and had 16 rebounds for Villanova, which fell to 13-4 at the time, part of a 5-6 slide to end the regular season.
WILBUR: To be honest, when we look back at the first Maryland game, I thought we got blown out. It was a funny game. I guess from a player’s point of view, when you’re getting yelled at and you feel like you did something wrong, that’s how we felt.
MCCLAIN: Lenny had a great game (during the first matchup), and he was a phenomenal player, but at the same time, our power forward, Harold Pressley, had a terrible game. I think Harold scored two points, if that. So we knew if Harold had even an average game and we did a better job on Len, then we could avenge that loss.
PINCKNEY: It wasn’t like your run-of-the-mill 30 points (for Bias). It was a spectacular, baseline-dunking, turnaround-jump-shot-shooting performance. He did everything in the game that you could possibly think of.
EVERSON: (During the first game, at Maryland), I came in in the middle of the 2-3 zone, and he got the ball on the block, he took a jump stop into the middle of the paint, jumped, brought the ball down between his legs, I’m already on my downward flight, he’s still in the air, I land, I hit him, and he flips the ball over his head for an and-1, which was the most athletic play I’ve ever seen up close and been a part of. He was so great, he could kind of do whatever he wanted.
I played probably my most minutes in a game my freshman year in that game at Cole Field House, and I ended up covering Lenny (Bias), and the moment I got inserted into the game, Lenny was all over me. He said, literally, ‘Give me the ball, I’ve got a white guy on me.’
PLANSKY: I played probably my most minutes in a game my freshman year in that game at Cole Field House, and I ended up covering Lenny, and the moment I got inserted into the game, Lenny was all over me. He said, literally, "Give me the ball, I’ve got a white guy on me." As a freshman, I was kind of like, "OK, that’s slightly intimidating," and then he wouldn’t even worry about making a move when he got the ball. He would just turn and jump four feet in the air and shoot it over me. I remember, Dick Enberg said on the tape, "Mr. and Mrs. Plansky, it’s not your son’s fault. He’s just covering a superstar," as "new career high" scrolled across the whole TV screen in that big, 1985 font.
BROWN: Lenny Bias was, to me, on the level of Michael Jordan. Of course, we didn’t get to see that in the NBA, but some of the guys from the team just recently got together, and that came up. Who was the best player that you could remember playing against? And Lenny Bias’ name came up from several guys as one of the most elite players out there. He could just do it all.
BOOTH: I look back and I tell people that if he had lived and played on the Celtics with Larry Bird, they would have won two or three more NBA championships. He was that good.
HARRINGTON: Basically, Len Bias was Superman, and the way Coach set up the game plan was that no one person was going to stop Len Bias, because no one person could stop Len Bias. All you could try to do was contain him.
As it turned out, the plan worked well. Bias, who made one of his first nine shots, had two points at the half, and Maryland shot 32 percent as a team in the first 20 minutes. The Terps took a 20-19 lead into the break, but the pace played right into Villanova’s hands.
MCLAIN: At that point, if you ran up and down with Maryland, you were going to get into some kind of shootout, and that was not our game plan.
PRESSLEY: Personally, that was one of those games where I had to step up defensively. I was so out of the first game down at Cole Field House, I guess because I felt an awful lot of those dunks that Lenny Bias had. So in my head, it was, "OK, he had his way, and now it’s our turn. Let’s shut him down."
PINONE: Of the six games in the tournament, I knew for sure that we were going to win two of them, and that was Maryland and Memphis. I think we realized how poorly we played and the things we didn’t do well the first time against Maryland and we knew we wouldn’t make those same mistakes twice.
PINCKNEY: The way we stopped (Bias) was a total team effort. Harold Pressley was a very good player, and we had myself and Dwayne. We did everything we could to try to prevent him from scoring, because Lenny Bias could do anything. He wasn’t a one-dimensional guy.
JENSEN: Eddie bothered people. He bothered Ewing for four years, he bothered (Bill) Wennington and Walter Berry and (Rony) Seikaly and (Rafael) Addison over the years. Eddie just knew how to cover people. He was an amazing defender, agile, long, wiry and really strong for his physique. He was obviously a lean guy back then, but he was very strong and was a quick jumper, so he could bother shots, and I think he really frustrated Bias that day because he was so determined to stop him.
PRESSLEY: You could see it on the film, that frustration just came over (Bias), and he actually pushed me, he got so frustrated (with Villanova leading 32-24 in the second half). He shoved me from behind when I was going up for a dunk, and when that happens, you know you’re in somebody’s head. It’s all over for him then because he’s not thinking about the game, he’s thinking about why he can’t score.
Maryland didn’t score a point for more than seven minutes to start the second half — part of a field goal drought that stretched from the 2:10 mark of the first half to the 11:40 mark — and Bias, who played the final eight minutes of the game with four fouls, finished with just eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, breaking a streak of 52 straight games scoring in double figures, which dated to a seven-point game in a loss to Notre Dame in January 1984.
Of Bias’ four baskets, two came on fast-break dunks and one was an easy put-back after a Maryland miss. Adrian Branch had a game-high 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting for Maryland, but the Terps were unable to fully dig out of a double-digit hole. A Branch jumper cut the VIllanova lead to 43-40 with 2:05 to play, but the Wildcats, who had gone into their, ‘We’ve got enough,’ stall set yet again, never let Maryland get closer.
PINCKNEY: The whole key was that it was a team we’d previously played. In terms of matching up and taking away other teams’ strengths, you probably won’t find a better tactician than Rollie Massimino. Give him four or five days to look at a situation, and he’ll draw up the perfect game plan.
HARRINGTON: Once Rollie saw a team, he could move the chess pieces as he saw fit throughout the game. He yelled and screamed, but in that yelling and screaming was a lot of instruction and a lot of forethought as to how the game should progress.
LAPPAS: Rollie was like a mad scientist. He loved to confuse the other team. In those days, people’s zone offenses weren’t very sophisticated, so when you played matchup zone, if you could get people to think you were playing zone, you could get them standing around.
MARBACH: It was a brutal game to watch, honestly, but because of our preparation, we were able to get away with a win, even though we didn’t play that well offensively.
EVERSON: Listen, if you hold Len Bias to eight points, you better win the game.
ELITE EIGHT: (8) VILLANOVA 56, (2) NORTH CAROLINA 44
Villanova’s Elite Eight matchup with North Carolina marked the third time in four seasons that the Wildcats seniors played with a chance to advance to the Final Four. In 1982, Villanova fell 70-60 to the eventual champion Tar Heels in the East Regional final in Raleigh, and in 1983, Nova lost 89-71 to eventual runner-up Houston, better known then as Phi Slamma Jamma, in the Midwest Regional final in Kansas City. In the team’s lone meeting with UNC between the ’82 and ’85 regional finals, in February 1983, Villanova braved a blizzard to travel to Chapel Hill, where it beat the No. 1-ranked Tar Heels, 56-53.
MCLAIN: Redemption wasn’t on our minds because, even though they had a stellar team with the likes of Brad Daugherty and Kenny Smith, the teams back in the days with James Worthy, Kevin Black, Michael Jordan, Matt Doherty — those were superior teams. So it was trying to beat a much heralded North Carolina team, but it wasn’t the same Carolina.
PRESSLEY: There was definitely no mystique of, "This is North Carolina" for us. It was just playing basketball, and whoever is on the court, that’s who we had to beat.
HARRINGTON: I really don’t think we felt pressure to take that next step because of the previous years’ quote-unquote "failures." I think we were more focused on the moment and the opportunity in front of us, to just go out and play. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but I also don’t want to make it more complicated than it was. We weren’t playing against history; we were playing against North Carolina.
PLANSKY: The motivation was more not wanting to let anyone down because we’d had such a great year up to that game. I’d be lying if I said I knew the magnitude of going or not going to the Final Four, because it was my first year, but there was a built-in feeling of, "This feels like something really special, and this seems like something really cool, this seems like Coach really wants it, this seems like Eddie, Gary and Dwayne really want it, so the last thing we’re going to do is screw it up."
PINCKNEY: At that point, we’d gone from a team that might not make the tournament to a team that had won three games in the tournament, so there was a little more attention being paid to us. With this Carolina team, it’s a twofold situation: One, they don’t have Perkins or Jordan, and two, they have young players again. Kenny Smith, excellent player, Brad Daugherty, very talented, but they were young (Smith a sophomore; Daugherty a junior) and maybe not tournament-tested.
LAPPAS: Dean Smith was one of those coaches who said, "Here’s what we do, and we do it really well, so stop it," but Rollie had had some success against Dean. They won that game in the snowstorm against Michael Jordan and those guys, so there was absolutely no fear factor there.
PINCKNEY: We were pretty determined to try to get past that game, but there was a sense going in that people thought we got lucky those first three games. It was kind of like, "Oh, there’s no way they’ll be able to beat North Carolina in Birmingham," but there’s a lot to be said about being the underdog when, inside, you really know you have the kind of togetherness and cohesion where if you play the right way, you know you can win. That’s what that particular team had.
In the first half, however, Villanova struggled tremendously on the offensive side of the ball, shooting just 6-of-26. Still, the Wildcats only trailed 22-17 at the break, thanks in part to a three-point play by Dwayne McClain at the buzzer. Villanova’s play was uninspiring it sparked a unique and memorable halftime speech from Massimino.
MCCLAIN: I was just going in for an offensive rebound right before the half, and I knew time was expiring. Everyone was getting up to the glass, and I was fortunate enough to make contact, put the ball in and got fouled. It was kind of a momentum swing bringing us to halftime. But we knew that was a poor first half we played, and if you’re going to lose a game in the NCAA tournament, then you want to lose knowing you put everything you have on the floor, leaving it on the court.
BOOTH: Rollie had never, in all his years of coaching, excluded all his assistants from a conversation at halftime, but he just ran right by us into the locker room and was totally emotional.
BUONAGURO: He went right in, took his sport coat off and he got out in front of the team, and there was nothing about X’s and O’s. He said, "Hey, if you guys don’t want to go to the Final Four, that’s fine with me. It’s not the end of the world. But you know what I really want, rather than going to the Final Four? I want a big dish of macaroni with clam sauce."
HARRINGTON: His whole facial expression when he was sitting there, it was almost salivating, saying, "I’d seriously rather be eating than be here right now." And we knew that what he was saying was, "You’re wasting my time. You’re playing tight, and if you don’t want to be here, then I don’t want to be here."
PINCKNEY: You’re sitting there saying, "What is he talking about? Pasta? We’re losing this game." But the way he put it into context was that we could be somewhere other than here. He had a better understanding of lost opportunities because he’d dealt with it in the past with many of his teams, and I think he felt for our team that if we were able to sort of snap out of what we were in during the first half, that we could do something special.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I basically told them, "It’s a great tribute to all of you that you got here, and you’ve got to understand that you’ve done a wonderful job, now just play and relax."
EVERSON: It was almost like he gave us his blessing to just go ahead and play like we play, and that’s what we needed at that point. We needed someone to say, "It’s OK, man. Go have fun."
MCCLAIN: It felt like a pin popped a balloon and the pressure was just released.
PINCKNEY: You just don’t get many opportunities to do special things with a group of people that you really like, so I think we all kind of just said after that was over, as teammates, "Come on, let’s go out there and let’s just give them hell and get this thing done the way we know how."
Villanova responded almost immediately in the second half, using a 26-11 run to take a 43-33 lead. During the run, Jensen, who had not made a field goal since the Dayton game, led the charge, scoring eight points, most of them on jump shots from the baseline, while McClain and Pressley each added six.
JENSEN: I was really pumped up and it hurt me and it hurt us a little bit in the first half, but when Coach said at halftime, "Jensen, you start the second half," it just sent me a good message. It sent me a message that "I believe in you." It wasn’t that I didn’t feel it before, but it just said, "Go make it happen," and I guess I just felt so confident going out onto the floor.
WILBUR: I was having a bad tournament, and I think Coach Mass did the right thing by putting Harold in for me because we needed a spark, and thank God that Harold stepped up and gave it to us. That’s something that’s really hard to do.
PLANSKY: Harold didn’t have the mindset of, "This is my opportunity, this is my time to shine, and I can finally show everybody that I’m a great player." He had the same mentality I had, which was, "OK, I’ve got an opportunity to not let my teammates down, not let Coach Mass down, and I’m going to do the best I can."
BOOTH: For all his natural ability — and he was a talented basketball player — Harold had periods where he didn’t believe in himself, but Rollie would never holler at him. He’d bring him in and put his arm around him and say, "Hey, I have confidence in you. I know you can do it, so go out and do it."
JENSEN: The pace of the game was good for me and for us, and obviously their focus was not me. I hadn’t shot well the game before and in general for that season. They probably looked at our front line and said, "If we stop the front line, then we win the game," and so I found myself open in the second half a number of times, just with good ball movement, and once I made the first one in the second half, it was always a positive thing for me, to nail a shot and get the juices flowing.
Meanwhile, the Villanova defense played tremendously again, holding every North Carolina player but Daugherty to fewer than six points for the game. With a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining, Villanova — which made 16 of 21 shots in the second half — again implemented its delay set, and after Jensen turned an errant UNC pass into a layup to give Villanova a 47-36 lead with 3:20 left, it became a game of free throws, with McLain making seven of eight foul shots to close the game.
MARBACH: I’ll always remember that Jensen play, late in the game. There was a loose ball and anybody could have gotten it, but Harold Jensen sprinted, outhustled all the North Carolina kids to the sideline, got the ball and created a fast-break opportunity.
MCCLAIN: It came down to not turning the ball over and controlling the tempo of the game, something we did a much better job of in the second half than we did in the first half.
MCLAIN: In New York when you grow up and play ball, in the summertime I was in every tournament there was and played against everybody from Beetle Washington to Kenny Smith. So everybody knew of me and knew I wasn’t wasn’t going to back down just because you were named "The Jet." So when you’re playing in a game of that magnitude, all you’re thinking about is how this is nothing compared to playing uptown at Rucker. I’ve got mad respect for Kenny, but I got the best of him.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: Dean, very graciously, with a minute and a half to play, backed off, and we held the ball and ended up winning by 12.
After the final buzzer sounded, the Villanova players rushed to the court to celebrate reaching the Final Four.
MARBACH: It sounds crazy, but the Carolina game was probably more emotional than even winning the entire thing, because we had knocked on the door so many times. The desire to go to the Final Four — it’s every player’s and every coach’s dream.
BOOTH: I actually came to Villanova as an assistant to Rollie in 1981, when Gary, Dwayne and Eddie came, their freshman year. And they were always telling Rollie that they were going to take him one step further than he’d ever been. You kind of figured, ‘OK, well they’re kids,’ but they were determined to get us there.
In the last 20 seconds, 30 seconds of that game, when we realized that they had stopped fouling us, I got incredibly emotional on the court. I mean, I was crying like a baby, while we were moving the ball around.
JENSEN: In the last 20 seconds, 30 seconds of that game, when we realized that they had stopped fouling us, I got incredibly emotional on the court. I mean, I was crying like a baby, while we were moving the ball around. My dad, who was down there in Birmingham, wanted to get down to the floor and the security guards were saying, "Hey, you can’t go down there." But my dad was a tough guy, a carpenter, and a huge fan, and he loved Villanova and was so excited about what was happening that he said, "No, this is the only game I’m going to see like this in my life, so I’m going to go hug my son," and we had a great embrace. My dad passed away a couple years ago, and it was one of the best memories that I’ll have of him.
PINCKNEY: After the game, I remember jumping up on the scorer’s table, celebrating, yelling to the crowd. As a college player, I think everybody talks about getting to the Final Four, and you spend four years beating your brains in at practice every day, your coach yelling at you, through the good times and bad times, wins and losses. If you don’t sacrifice the time and effort to go to some spring break party, to go to some party off campus, the sacrifice — to get up Saturday morning and practice, to study to maintain your grade point average — all of those things you sacrifice to put yourself in position for this moment. So it’s all those emotions that you’re screaming about and why you’re up on that table.
It’s all of the teammates that have graduated in years past that you’ve seen graduate who you know are watching, who you wish were there with you. It’s all those emotions that make you jump up and say, "We finally did it. We’re finally here." You wish John Pinone was there. You wish Stewart Granger, Mike Mulquin were there and Marty Lutschaunig and John Sices. I’m standing on this table yelling for Frank Dobbs. I’m yelling for all those dudes who you sat there with on Saturday morning with Coach yelling and screaming at you and talking about, "There’s going to be 60,000 people in the dome in New Orleans, and they’re going to be yelling and screaming, too, and that’s why we’re practicing on Saturday." This is what Massimino would always tell us, and finally we’re there.
MCLAIN: It was one of the greatest feelings of my life, next to the birth of my daughter. It was tremendous. Just to see the look on Coach Mass’ face. I mean, me and him, we went at it sometimes. When you have a good player like me, someone who is opinionated, what sometimes happens is you don’t see eye to eye. It’s not about me not wanting to execute the game plan, believe me, but I challenged thought, I challenged ideas, and that’s who Gary McLain is.
PRESSLEY: I was so thrilled to beat North Carolina, especially, because I got the call from Dean Smith right after they lost the championship game (in 1981), and my high school coach wanted me to go to Carolina, and Carolina came to my house and said, "We know you’re an All-American, we know you’re a great player and we will not over-recruit at the same position, and we have a guy right now in your position and we think he’s going to be a great player. If he doesn’t pan out to be what I think he’s going to be, then we’ll be back in March to recruit you." You know who that other guy was? It was Michael Jordan. So I had a little chip on my shoulder, not because of Michael Jordan, but because I thought I could play with Michael Jordan, as well.
R.C. MASSIMINO: I don’t even know that I hugged my father immediately after the national championship game but I can tell you that the Philadelphia Inquirer has a great picture of me hugging my dad after that North Carolina game. To me, I think that was in some ways bigger, just because it was such a milestone. He had gotten to the final eight a couple times and wasn’t able to win that game, and that was such a big moment in his coaching career, such a big moment for our team to get over the hump and beat a team with that kind of history and that kind of coach. I remember so vividly running up to my father with maybe 10 seconds left on the clock, and it was kind of like, "We made it. You did it, Dad. You’re there."
WILBUR: Once we got past North Carolina, I think we thought we really had a shot to win a national championship. I’m not going to sit here and say no one said it prior to that, but I don’t think we really thought we would get to where we were. I think we thought we were good, and good enough to play with anybody, but us being on the national championship circuit, that particular team would have been the type to say, "Wouldn’t it be nice?" Before Carolina, we weren’t counting ourselves out, but it was more a case of "Wouldn’t it be great to get there?"
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: They told me on the bus after, "Now you’re going to remember us for more than just who we were and how we played, and we’re going to try to make this happen." Better late than never, I guess.
SEMIFINAL: (8) VILLANOVA 52, (2) MEMPHIS STATE 45
LAPPAS: We got back from beating North Carolina and we walked into the fieldhouse on campus and it was like a rock concert. The place was jammed. It was like the Rolling Stones or the Beatles were playing. There wasn’t one ounce of room in that place. It was an unbelievable thing and it kind of set the tone for the week.
EVERSON: For me, it was like being Tito Jackson or Ringo Starr. You were in the band but you weren’t the main guy. So people were trying to get at us and touch us and say hello and we got up, and there were probably more people in that gym than the school had students.
PRESSLEY: The place was so mobbed that just getting in the door was a struggle. It was a feeling that you can’t describe but you can’t ever forget. It was a beautiful thing walking into that gym.
MAKER: After that, we couldn’t wait to get to Lexington and get started. We were walking around campus numb and the students at school were patting us on the back, "Go get ’em, go get ’em" everywhere we went.
PINONE: We were the lowest-seeded team and Lexington was not exactly New York City when it came to hotels, so when we got there, we stayed at the Ramada Inn.
BROWN: No one expected us to be there, and we were treated that way. Everywhere we went, when they had (promotional items) with the Final Four teams on them, our name was like a last-second placement. You could see where it was a last-second placement, where it wasn’t printed there and they had to put something over North Carolina’s name.
We were checking in to the hotel and some Memphis people were in front of us. The team wasn’t there, but just some people. And they were saying, ‘Listen, we need all the extra rooms that Villanova is going to give up, because we’re going to be here on Monday.’
EVERSON: When we were checking in to the hotel and some Memphis people were in front of us. The team wasn’t there, but just some people. And they were saying, "Listen, we need all the extra rooms that Villanova is going to give up, because we’re going to be here on Monday. We want to put a booking on those rooms now and hold them so that when the Villanova people leave, Memphis fans can have the rooms." So we’re looking at each other and we’re saying, "Wait a second, we’re not leaving."
MCLAIN: We were like Rodney Dangerfield against Memphis, man. No respect. Those guys were real confident about their ability to knock us off.
WILBUR: Of course, Georgetown and St. John’s were also there, and what probably soothed us more than anything was listening to all the chants and seeing the signs like "Who invited Memphis State to the Big East tournament?" That just made us feel more at ease, more at home. You know, "We’re OK, it’s OK and we’ve been here before."
JENSEN: In one little corner of our brain, in addition to staying focused on Memphis, there was a part of us that said, "At least we know what we’re up against if we get by this one."
MCCLAIN: Memphis was very much out of place in that they weren’t really a concern of ours. They had good size up front with Keith Lee and William Bedford, and Andre Turner at point guard, and had Vince Askew and some pretty good wing players, but they weren’t battle-tested like we had been. We were happy to face Memphis in the semifinal.
PINCKNEY: We were (in Birmingham) watching them on TV, and they beat Boston College, and we were saying, "Yeah, they’re good," and we knew that we had to play an exceptionally solid game to beat them. But it was still a situation where we were being picked as underdogs, and I personally wanted to play against Keith Lee because he was another measuring stick in terms of an individual person who was a very good player who you want to try to play against to see if you’re as good as they are.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: At the Final Four we would practice in the morning by ourselves, watch film by ourselves, and then when they had the open practice for everyone to come and watch — 8,000 or 9,000 people — we would just shoot around and have fun or play a crazy game together. People thought we were wild.
BOOTH: I was at a little bit of an advantage over most of the coaches and players in that I played for Jack Ramsay and as a player (at St. Joseph’s), we were in the Final Four in 1961, so I had experienced that and told the kids that it would be something they’d never forget no matter what success we had or didn’t have.
PLANSKY: For me, as a freshman, I was kind of like, "OK, last year as a high school senior, I was watching Georgetown beat Houston with my high school team and my trainer, trying to smuggle beers, and now one year later I’m on the sidelines in Kentucky at Rupp Arena. What the hell is going on?"
Like several of the other games before the national semifinal, Villanova was not at its best early against Memphis State. The Wildcats made just one of their first eight shots and at one point in the first half were being outrebounded 15-5. But despite all that, Villanova rallied to tie the game at 13-13 and went into the half tied at 23-23. Most importantly, Memphis State’s penalty-prone big men, Lee and Bedford, picked up two fouls each late in the first half and, while the Tigers converted on several easy dunks early, the Villanova defense seemed to be coming into its own near the end of the half, thwarting an opponent’s effort to hold for the final shot for the third straight game.
MARBACH: We knew, from tapes, that against a 2-3 zone, Memphis State was going to play a 1-3-1 offense, and against a 1-3-1 defense, they were going to play a 2-1-2 offense. So with Coach Mass’ matchup zone — it’s really not that complicated — you’d show one thing and then do something else, and as a result, Memphis State did a lot of standing around. I would never say Memphis State wasn’t a smart team, but Coach Mass knew what they were going to run and had them sized up pretty well.
BOOTH: On offense, Rollie’s directive almost every game was, "We’re going to make seven or eight passes before we look for a shot." We weren’t going to run up and down the court.
PLANSKY: Even if you were wide open, the idea was that you could always get an 18-to-22-foot shot 20 seconds later.
PRESSLEY: We knew it was going to be a little more difficult for us big guys because they were so long. With Bedford being a 7-footer and Keith Lee right there at 7 feet, with long arms, we knew that they loved to offensive rebound, loved catching the ball in the paint and just dropping it in. So it was going to be a battle to keep them out of the paint and make them shoot over the top, and challenging each and every shot was going to be a tough deal.
PRESSLEY: We knew Turner was extremely fast and he was a guy that could break down a defense and get those big guys the ball for dunks. We knew we had to find a way for our guards to keep that little guy out of the middle of the court, and we did. We did a great job keeping him out and it made it a little easier for us to battle with the big guys and force them out of the paint.
It took almost no time for Villanova to get Memphis State further into foul trouble in the second half, as Bedford picked up his third foul at the 17:20 mark, and Lee followed suit on the next Villanova play. Lee went to the bench with his fourth foul with 15:32 remaining, and after returning to the floor with 12:30 to play — replacing Bedford, who had picked up a technical foul and his fourth personal — Lee fouled out battling Pressley for a loose ball with 10:21 on the clock. During that span, Villanova had turned a 27-23 deficit into a 41-33 lead
PINCKNEY: I go to Memphis occasionally when we play against the Grizzlies and a lot of people there tell me, "Man, we got cheated in that game. Keith shouldn’t have fouled out." But Big East basketball was physical, it was in your face, guys drove to the basket with no abandon at all.
MCCLAIN: When Keith Lee fouled out against Harold Pressley, we went to the huddle for a timeout, and when we came out, I went to the foul line. You can bet your last dollar, I told Harold that I was going to the line. At that point, I hadn’t missed a foul shot in the NCAA tournament. I had that senior authority, I delegated it, and Harold was like, "No problem." Then I stepped up and knocked them down. (Memphis) were probably more concerned with Keith picking up that foul than who he committed that foul on, and I just went to the foul line, no one said anything, and they just handed me the ball.
PRESSLEY: My brother knew right away, because he still brings it up. There wasn’t anything planned between us beforehand, but when I got fouled, he came over and. I can’t remember if I said, "Do you want me to shoot these" or if he said "I’m shooting these," but we both got up and it was understood that he was going to the line. We were both right on cue, and that’s how we were. That’s how that whole team was. We always knew what the other was thinking.
After McClain’s free throws made it 41-33, the Villanova offense fell into a drought despite Lee being out and Bedford in foul trouble and did not score a point for seven minutes, as Memphis State rallied to tie the game at 41-41 with 3:27 left. From that point on, however, Villanova outscored Memphis State 11-4, with nine points coming at the foul line, on 10 attempts.
HARRINGTON: For a second during that Memphis run, it was like, "Maybe reality has finally caught us." Coach wasn’t saying that and none of the assistants were saying that, but watching it, you’re saying, "Maybe, maybe, maybe this is as far as we’re going to go."
PINCKNEY: Gary used to always joke during the course of games, when we were down by a lot, and he’d take his jersey out of his shorts and say, "All right, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get dirty." Maybe the official would say, "Hey kid, tuck your jersey in your shorts," but he wouldn’t because that was his sign that you needed to get your body on the floor, going after loose balls and play with reckless abandon. That was one of those times.
PLANSKY: If there were five minutes left in the game and the game was within five points, I would take Coach Massimino over any coach in the country. We prepared those situations in October, so come April, we’d already done it 100 times. He would say, "Guys, we’ve done this," and there were 50 different prepared offenses and defenses. We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 54, 55 defensive sets. Nobody in college basketball today has more than three.
BOOTH: If you’re going to try to hold the ball, you have to have guys who can shoot foul shots, and that year, probably our weakest starter shooting foul shots, was probably Pres. Pres may have been in the low-to-mid 60s (64.3 percent), and every other starter we had out there would shoot fouls in the mid-to-upper 70s (Pinckney 72.9 percent, McClain 75.4, Wilbur 74.5, McLain 81.6), Jensen probably around 80 percent (81.4), and it was something, to be honest, we worked on every single day.
MCCLAIN: Be it in Syracuse up at the Carrier Dome or in Landover, Md., down in DC, or at the Final Four, it’s still the same 15-foot shot. So you try not to look at (free throws) as pressure, but as something you’ve done repeatedly, time and time again. You just want to get up there and focus and try to knock them down. Once we got to the tournament, we focused, particularly, on those free throws, because we knew that would be a big part of the game.
PRESSLEY: You’ve got to win ugly. Sometimes it’s just not going to go the way you would like it to go, but you still have to find a way. Once, while I was playing for Bill Russell in Sacramento, we were playing in a city that had a snow storm going on, and he said, "Well, we’re here. We might as well win," and I thought that was a Villanova type of saying. Massimino never said it, but I could hear him saying something like that. If you’re going to go, you might as well get the job done. We were there at the Final Four and things just weren’t going the right way, but you find a way to get the W, and I think that’s what that game was.
CHAMPIONSHIP: (8) VILLANOVA 66, (1) GEORGETOWN 64
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: Ask the kids, and they’ll tell you they wanted to play Georgetown rather than St. John’s in the final. I wouldn’t have minded St. John’s.
PINCKNEY: I’ll tell you this: If we played St. John’s, you’d probably be talking to somebody else for this story. As great as Georgetown was, we didn’t know if we could beat them, but we knew we could stay close with them, at least.
MCCLAIN: St. John’s didn’t just kind of have our number that year, they definitely had our number. It was just a bad matchup with Walter Berry. He gave us nightmares. Chris Mullin was contained, pretty much, and Mark Jackson and Bill Wennington were guys we had an answer for, but we did not have an answer for Berry.
PRESSLEY: I felt that way more so than anybody else. There was just something about his style of play and his strength and athletic ability —maybe the left hand — that had me off balance. It was always like, "Are you kidding me?" I’d have my hand in his face and tip his shot and it would still go down. So yeah, no, I did not want to see Walter again.
PINCKNEY: Still, I don’t want to say it was relief that we were playing Georgetown, because after they demolished St. John’s (77-59 in the other semifinal), my parents, both of them, said, "Well this has been a great run. It’s been really nice. Too bad it’s got to be over." Nobody thought we were winning that game except us.
On the way to the championship game, street vendors were already selling shirts that said ‘Georgetown NCAA Champs.’ They were saying, ‘Buy them now while you can get them.’
BROWN: On the way to the championship game, street vendors were already selling shirts that said "Georgetown NCAA Champs." They were saying "Buy them now while you can get them." Newspapers, sportscasters, everyone was against us. There were all kinds of things out there basically saying "Why is Villanova even wasting their time going through the motions of this game?"
WILSON: The day of the game, there was even an article in the local paper out there that said there would be a Martian in the White House before we won.
D.G. Fitzmaurice, Lexington Herald-Leader columnist, "Georgetown will snooze, uh, cruise to the title": I can state now, in public and unequivocally, that there’ll be a Martian in the White House before Villanova beats Georgetown for the NCAA title. I realize that Rollie Massimino will probably read this to his players. I hope he does. It’ll take their minds off the game. It’ll be a Big East Feast of Roman Meal at Rupp Arena with feline fricassee the main course.
MCCLAIN: Georgetown was America’s darling, the No. 1 team in the country, and with the best player in Patrick Ewing. So for people to hear that we wanted Georgetown to win that ballgame, they thought we were crazy. But I felt that the stars had aligned for us and it was our time. When Georgetown beat St. John’s, we collectively looked at each other like we had already won the national championship.
WILBUR: Out of all the games we ever played against Georgetown, this was the one game where we knew we could get them. And if we did not get them, we’d still be playing that game right now, in overtime, overtime, overtime. We were definitely not going to allow Georgetown to get away this time. They were at our mercy.
LAPPAS: (Former Villanova coach) Al Severance passed away at the team hotel the morning of the championship game, and I’ll never forget, during our pregame meal, Rollie saying that Al would be up there swatting shots off the rim from heaven.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: It was a terrible blow because Al and I were good friends and he was very, very receptive to everything we did. He purposely came down to see the game and he was shaving and all of a sudden he passed. We were all distraught but we had to play on and do the best we could.
BUONAGURO: Rollie told the kids, "At the end of this meal, I want you to go back to your room, close your eyes and think about cutting the nets down."
EVERSON: Coach Mass told us before the game to think about two things: One, anybody can beat anybody on a given night, and two, he wanted us to play the game to win instead of playing not to lose, essentially telling us to go for it. We were not afraid of the Hoya Paranoia and all that other stuff. We’d been down the road with these guys numerous times.
BUONAGURO: Eddie Pinckney had always played well against Patrick Ewing. Eddie enjoyed playing against Ewing because he had to live with all the "Ewing is the best player in the country" talk — and he was — but Eddie was the kind of guy that would relish that. He took that and played with a chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove he could play with this guy.
We knew that Ewing was one of the greatest college players of all time, but Eddie did not have an ounce of fear of Patrick. Not an ounce.
HARRINGTON: We knew that Ewing was one of the greatest college players of all time, but Eddie did not have an ounce of fear of Patrick. Not an ounce. Look at the stats over the course of the years, and Ed played Patrick as well as anybody in college.
PINCKNEY: If you never saw them play before, there’s no way you could simulate Patrick. We would practice against seven, eight defenders sometimes for upcoming games against them and their full-court press. So when you do that for several years, there’s a comfort level in playing against them. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but it does mean you’ll at least be able to get the ball over halfcourt and maybe get into your offense.
BOOTH: Going into that game that night, we knew if Gary McLain could not handle the pressure, we were in deep trouble. We had no one else in my mind or in any other coach’s mind that could do that.
PINCKNEY: It’s like you took a deep breath when you took the ball out of bounds and then held it while Gary was bringing the ball up. Their pressure defense — there is nothing like it in college basketball now. I coached in college, and there was nothing like it. Maybe the 40 minutes of hell in Arkansas, but after that, nobody pressed like that. They had great athletes and size and lateral quickness and then at the end of the press they had the ultimate rim protector. Every time Gary got to the half court line, you would exhale.
MARBACH: His self-confidence — if he didn’t have that, I don’t think there’s any way he could have performed the way he did. Because athletically, was he a great jumper? No. Did he have blinding quickness? No. But he was a solid ballplayer and he was just totally, totally confident. He had supreme confidence in himself. Some people can get away with just their talent, but if Gary was indecisive or lacked confidence, he might have been just an ordinary college player.
BOOTH: The confidence came from the fact that, one, he was used to it because of the number of times we’d played Georgetown, and two, what he had done throughout the tournament, and people don’t realize that. I mean, seven turnovers in six games? As much praise as Eddie and Dwayne and Pres and Jensen got, we don’t win the NCAA tournament without Gary.
MCLAIN: It’s one of those things where, if you’re blessed to play in a game the magnitude of that one, you can’t get overwhelmed by the dynamic of it being March Madness. And more importantly, you just have to do what you know how to do.
In both meetings with Georgetown during the regular season, Villanova led at the half before eventually losing: 52-50 in overtime at home and 57-50 at Georgetown. In the national championship, the Wildcats shot 13 of 18 from the field and 3 of 4 from the foul line in the first half and again took a 29-28 edge into the break.They also took a head of steam into the locker room after a confrontation between Everson and Georgetown’s Reggie Williams just before halftime.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I got on Eddie Pinckney about how he was going to have trouble with Patrick Ewing. He was sick that day, so I told him "What, you get sick so you don’t have to play against Patrick?" But he played great.
LAPPAS: Pat, when he was in college, you feared him for what he did defensively. He was a way different pro. It was almost unbelievable to me that he became this tremendous jump shooter as a center because in college he wasn’t a huge scorer. I think he averaged like 14 points a game his senior year. So I think you were more afraid of what Patrick did defensively. He could practically play five guys by himself because he was such a great rim protector and shot blocker.
MARBACH: Ewing had those two consecutive dunks (one to make the score 26-23 and an alley-oop from half court to make it 28-25) when everybody thought "Oh boy, here we go. He’s waking up and now he’s going to take over," but I think (when you) control tempo, the pressure shifts dramatically on the favorite. So we’re the No. 8 seed not expected to do anything, and you look up at the clock and you’re close. I’m not trying to over dramatize it, but you see it sometimes. The favorite gets a little bit tighter and the underdog gets a hop in their step.
EVERSON: Pres scored on our end to give us the lead with a few seconds left in the half, and they’re pushing the ball down the court and time is running out, and David Wingate’s got the ball. All I could see in my mind is Wingate putting a shot up and having someone tip the ball in, and then I would have caught the wrath of Coach Mass at halftime. So when I saw Reggie breaking hard down the middle of the lane, coming pretty much full speed, I turned and put a clean box-out on him — a hard box-out because there was no way I was letting him tap the ball in on me at the buzzer so I could get yelled at at halftime. So Reggie turned around and came up and put his hands in my face, kind of half-slapped me, half-pushed me, and took off running. So coach uses that, and he runs off and he’s pumping his fist going into the locker room.
PINCKNEY: There’s a lot of tension in the game anyway, but it just adds to it when there’s an incident that you can tie to the other team. Everybody is looking for ammunition to give you an edge to play harder, and that was it for us, with Chuck.
EVERSON: I didn’t realize it was a big turning point in the game, during the heat of the moment, until I got to my locker at the end of the game and I’ve got 25 or 30 reporters hovering around me, asking about what happened.
MARBACH: I’m not saying that that was a reason that we won, but it made Coach Mass and the whole team even more fired up, because they took a shot at Chuck. So when we went in the locker room, the initial entry to the locker room was more about what happened to Chuck and it was sort of a unifying moment. It may have been brief, but it was a moment that we’ll never forget.
In the second half, the Villanova offense caught fire. The Wildcats forced Georgetown to play at their pace, waited for quality shots and made nine of their 10 attempts in the second half (22-of-28 for the game), in addition to sinking 19 of their 23 second-half free throws.
WILBUR: We just did everything in the second half like it came so easily.
PLANSKY: We definitely realized how well we were shooting. Dwight and I were on the bench halfway through the half and we look at each other and he’s saying, "Skee, why aren’t we back in the game?" I said, "Back in? I haven’t even been in yet. Plus, we haven’t missed," and he said, "OK, yeah, good point." As long as we’re not missing shots, I don’t mind being on the bench.
WILSON: I was keeping the book during that time, and when you shoot 90 percent in the second half, 78 percent for the game, I mean, that’s absurd. I was very nervous as it was happening. This is a championship game and a good team and we’d had close games with them throughout the year and didn’t hold on, but it was very nerve wracking.
You had to mentally stay in the game from start to finish with Georgetown, because once you let down ever so slightly, that’s when they’d go on their run.
PRESSLEY: You had to mentally stay in the game from start to finish with Georgetown, because once you let down ever so slightly, that’s when they’d go on their run. But that game, we never had one of those lulls. That’s why they called off the press a few times (in the second half) because they knew we were going to break it. They had to. You’re making your team tired and not getting anything out of it. People kind of barked at the fact that John Thompson took it off, but what was he going to do?
PLANSKY: I actually got in the game in the second half when (Horace) Broadnax ran over Gary (with Villanova leading 41-38, 10 minutes in) and got called for a foul. Gary hit his head, and today everyone would be saying, "Concussion, take him to the locker room, he’s out for 10 days," but Coach Mass decided, that instead of calling a timeout, to allow Gary to clear his head by substituting for a 1-and-1. All of a sudden, Coach says, "Plansky get in." It was literally like, if you remember watching "Happy Days," I felt like Ralph Malph. I had no right going in as a backup point guard in a game, especially against Georgetown.
Anyway, I’ve got Coach saying, "Get in there and shoot the foul shots," and Mitch Buonaguro saying, "Whatever you do, don’t dribble the basketball, and give it to Pres because you suck at dribbling," and I’ve got Marbach saying, "You’re supposed to be at the top of the zone, but we’ll put Pres up there." So I’ve got 97 things going through my head, which isn’t an excuse, but I almost break the backboard on my 1-and-1 attempt. Next dead ball, I run back to the bench without even looking, I sit down and Coach Mass comes up to me — I’m more pissed than anybody in Rupp Arena that I just bricked a free throw when I’m supposed to be a shooter — slaps me on the knee and says, "Great job out there."
LAPPAS: People always says we held the ball, but Georgetown was the ones who decided to start holding the ball with about four minutes to go, (and a 54-53 lead) and it turned out that the key turnover in the game came a short time into it, when David Wingate passed the ball of Broadnax’s foot, we stole it and scored. That’s how we really got control of the game.
JENSEN: They were playing four corners, but we were happy to be in a one-point game with them holding the ball with just a few minutes left. If you said before that game, "Hey guys, I’ll give you down one, them with the ball, with three and a half to go," we’d have taken that in a heartbeat.
WILSON: I’ll always remember going back and watching and hearing Billy Packer make the call, "Jensen with ice water in his veins" after Harold made that shot to give us the lead for good (55-54 with 2:35 to go).
Villanova never trailed again after that, despite missing the front end of two 1-and-1s down the stretch while trying to put Georgetown away. The Wildcats never attempted another field goal and made 11 other free throws to secure the victory. Still, the game did not end without controversy, as the Hoyas used what some might call a dirty trick — and what others just call gamesmanship — to give themselves a chance at the end.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: Broadnax called their last timeout with 40 seconds left, and with maybe 10 seconds left (and Villanova leading 65-62 with Pressley at the line) I called time out. Back then, they had a running clock, so when the ball went through the basket, it continued on, where now it stops. So 10 seconds, we call time out, and I said "Guys, you’re going to win the national championship. Just don’t foul, let them come down, it’s going to take five seconds to come down and shoot the ball and make it, and then just leave the ball alone, and by the time the ref gets to a five-second count, the game will be over and we win."
PINONE: Pres made the first and missed the second, so they’re down four at the time and they come down and score with four or five seconds left on the clock (to make it 66-64) and Harold Jensen, smartly, is not picking the ball up, because once he picks it up the five-second clock starts. And while he’s walking over to the ball, Wingate punches it into the stands, and now the referee has to stop the clock because the ball is in the stands.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I called another timeout (with the clock now stopped at two seconds) and I’m just shaking I’m so mad. It should have been a technical foul and we should have won already, and now they’ve at least got a chance to tie. But I get my guys ready and I said "OK, let’s get it to Dwayne."
JENSEN: That was the first option, Dwayne breaking to the ball, to the corner. The next choice would have been to throw it to halfcourt and let someone bang it around and take a 50-footer. We’d had one or two five-second calls, and I’d been inbounding the ball the whole game, which was not an easy job against them. I didn’t want to get another, obviously, in that situation, so I’m counting in my head, "One, two, three…" and I’ve got to get rid of it. I’m either throwing it to half court or I’m throwing it to him, and he looked open enough to me.
MCCLAIN: I told Harold "Put the ball in my hands." I knew I had been shooting it well from the foul line (McClain missed one free throw in 25 tries during the tournament), and I really didn’t want to give them a chance to execute their defense. Making a move to get the ball, I actually stumbled and fell, but even though I fell, Harold still threw me the ball, and once I corralled it, I wasn’t going to let it go. I was just waiting for that clock to expire.
JENSEN: I knew that Dwayne was a very smart guy, and I knew that he wouldn’t try to get up.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I think he traveled when he fell, but I wasn’t going to make the call.
I think he traveled when he fell, but I wasn’t going to make the call.
PINCKNEY: You can’t describe the range of emotions after you win. In a matter of two or three hours, you have your game prep, your walkthrough and you’re talking about what you’ve got to do, to the actual game where the emotions are totally off the charts, and now it’s like celebration time. It’s the whole Jim Valvano moment. You’re running around looking for people to hug, just running aimlessly, jumping on tables. You want to clone yourself because the range of emotions is so high.
EVERSON: Winning that game was a feeling of euphoria that you’ve never, ever, ever experienced in your life. I had never cried just pure tears of joy until that moment. It was unbelievable.
MAKER: As a young man, I never knew how someone could cry from being happy, but I did that night, and a lot of us did. The emotions were just so high and it’s something I’ll never forget, and we’ll never forget as a team and as friends.
BROWN: My mom and dad were there, they came from Texas. I can still see my dad’s red cowboy hat. Being at that game is every college player’s dream and on top of that, having your family there to witness it — whether you play or don’t play, you’re still part of history.
WILBUR: It was my father’s birthday that game, and my father was more excited for us than we were for ourselves. That meant the world to me because I felt that I gave him something that we worked toward together. My father was the coach of a basketball team, and he cut me off his team because he didn’t want me to play for him. It was probably the greatest thing he ever did, even though I know it was tough for him to cut me. I got mad at the time, but I understand now why he did it, because it allowed me to become a better ballplayer playing for someone else. That particular night, I was overly excited and so proud that I was able to give him something that we both loved dearly.
LAPPAS: We believed it but we didn’t believe it. I mean, I was a high school coach coach the year before, so I couldn’t even fathom that I was there. It was an out-of-body experience.
MARBACH: If we were playing a pickup game, we would never win the game on talent alone, but when you game plan well and you control the tempo, once the ball goes up, that all goes out the window. And let’s face it, we turned the ball over 17 times and had to shoot almost 80 percent to win by two points. It wasn’t as if Georgetown had a bad game. I just think that it was one of those unbelievable, uncanny nights.
R.C. MASSIMINO: The thing I remember most was, when it was all over, taking a shower and getting on the bus and wondering who we were going to play next and realizing that there was no next. Every single year, you go to the tournament, you lose a game, you go home, clean out your locker and wait until next season. And here, we beat Georgetown, and the next thing you know, there’s nobody else. I just remember that being a strange feeling, but such a great, great way to end the season.
AFTER THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Three decades after winning arguably the most improbable title in NCAA history, the 1985 Villanova team remains close. Every year, at least a few players head down to West Palm Beach, Fla., where Massimino, at 80 years old, is still coaching the program he founded at Northwood University, and this past November, everyone but freshman Veltra Dawson from the ’85 team and staff gathered in Philadelphia, where Northwood played Villanova in an exhibition to commemorate the 30th anniversary.
JENSEN: Every year that goes by, I follow the tournament, I love seeing the underdogs, and obviously I love being able to root for Villanova, but I feel — and I think all the guys feel — that we were incredibly fortunate to have that happen to us, because it’s very hard. It’s really hard to make that happen and when you think about the teams that were in the tournament, the teams that we faced along the way, it becomes even more of a small miracle, in so many ways, that we were able to do what we did.
PLANSKY: The ’85 game has done wonders for all of us. For Coach Mass, it’s solidified a hall of fame college career, and for Eddie it solidified a 10-plus-year NBA career, and for the rest of us, it opened doors in all professions. It really didn’t have anything other than positive effects for all 15 of us and anybody associated with that team. It was one of the best games played and one of the best results ever in college basketball.
BUONAGURO: It’s the greatest sports moment in my life, and one of the greatest moments in my life. I had been with Rollie eight years and gone there as a young assistant, and I was able to learn and develop as a coach. But you don’t realize it until you’re in a moment like that; you appreciate it more when you look back on it. It was a whirlwind when we went through it, and it was unbelievable all the work we did, staying up late watching film. We put a tremendous amount of effort into that accomplishment.
It’s the greatest sports moment in my life, and one of the greatest moments in my life.
BROWN: Coach Mass was like a second father to us. I mean, he did everything but change our last name to Massimino. And still, people come to me and say "When did y’all win it? ’95? Was it ’92 or ’95?" and I have to stop them and go "No, that was ’85," and they’ll say "Get out of here! You’re not that old!"
PINONE: I remember selfishly thinking after we won, "Larry Bird never won a national championship," and I, who could hardly spell Larry Bird, much less play like him, had one. It’s almost not fair. My brother scored 2,000 points and he didn’t win one, and I don’t know if I even scored 25 but I did. So you’re grateful, you’re humbled, you’re appreciative of everything, and you’re proud to share it with the guys in the room.
MAKER: Even today, people will try to compare teams who are in the tournament who might not have a great record to us, saying "Hey, they could be the next Villanova," and to us, that’s an honor. It was an honor to be there and an honor to win it.
WILSON: It’s hard to describe how good a feeling it was to be a part of it. If you’re a person who loves sports all your life, you want to be involved one way or another, and to actually be in a situation where you win a championship, particularly when no one gave you a shot to do it, that makes it all the more special. It’s created a bond with that team that is still 30 years strong.
R.C. MASSIMINO: It’s still unbelievable, and something that I’ll cherish forever, and I can’t imagine not being a part of it. I had an opportunity to play at other schools that were more Division II schools and not necessarily a school like Villanova, and I decided that I really wanted to play with my father and have that opportunity, and I’m so glad that I made that decision, because I don’t know how I would feel if I’d seen them win that national championship and didn’t have the opportunity to be a part of it.
LAPPAS: Everybody knows Villanova, and it’s because of that game. Even people who don’t follow college basketball know that Villanova is a basketball school and I think the national championship. It’s like Tiger Woods. Even if you don’t know anything about golf, you hear the name Tiger Woods and you know exactly who he is. And that’s how it was here.
JAY WRIGHT, current Villanova head coach and former Massimino assistant: That team is so revered on this campus and they’ve all stayed connected to the school. Earlier this year, we played Providence, and they announced Chuck Everson is there, Harold Jensen is there, Steve Pinone is there, and the place goes crazy. We went out after the game and anybody who met Harold or Chuck knows: ’85 national champion. It’s just such a great memory and it also stands for doing the impossible and everybody remembers that. Everybody at Villanova knows where they were that night. Everybody.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I speak to Jay a couple times a week and he’s done a wonderful job carrying on our legacy. He has a slogan where "We play for the kids before us." His kids are playing for the kids who were there when we played and that’s been a great tribute. I really think he’s going to win it someday and get Villanova another championship soon, if not this year.
You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter at @sam_gardner or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.