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March 21, 2013

Villanova UNC Classics

The 15th meeting all-time between Villanova and North Carolina takes place Friday night in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Heels lead the series 4-10 but there have been a handful of classic, memorable games sprinkled through the series that are worth revisiting from time to time. In this "retrospective" VUSports shares a look back at two of those games - the 1982 and 1983 meetings. In '82 the Tarheels tallied a 70-60 win over Villanova on the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Final Four and in 1983 #12 ranked, Villanova traveled through a blizzard to venerable, Carmichael Arena to knock off #1 ranked UNC by a final score of 56-53.

Rewind back to March 21st, 1982 to a place in time where Dean Smith has yet to win a national championship but his UNC roster is as loaded as any college roster has ever been. On that day, Villanova, coached by Rollie Massimino, faced North Carolina in a Regional Final game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh for the right to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans. Yes, that Final Four where Michael Jordan knocked down the game-winning jumper against Georgetown in the Championship game to both begin his legacy of clutch performances on the grandest of stages and to secure the first NCAA Title for Coach Smith.

How stacked was Carolina? The starters for the Regional Final game were James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, Matt Doherty and Jimmy Black. Matt Brust, Jim Braddock and Buzz Peterson provided the bench play. Villanova countered with lone Senior starter, Aaron Howard, Frosh sensation, Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, Stewart Granger and John Pinone. Frank Dobbs, Gary McLain and Mike Mulquin filled out the Wildcat rotation. Back at that time, Roy Williams was one of Dean Smith's trusted assistant coaches.

The announcing crew noted early in the contest that "even though it is nearly a home game for North Carolina, Villanova has good representation here".

The Cats started in a 1-3-1 zone with the athletic, 6'7" Howard at the top of the zone. The tactic was effective at first but Massimino had to mix in plenty of 2-3 match-up zone through the game as Howard struggled with foul trouble.

North Carolina shot the ball well early in the game while the Wildcats struggled from the floor despite getting quality looks. Nearly halfway through the opening stanza, the Heels led 20-10 behind 60% field goal shooting and the Cats were struggling at 30% from the floor.

A few observations in watching this game some thirty-plus years later: The talent level on both teams was ridiculously high. This was an era where early exits from college to pursue NBA dreams were the exception, not the norm. The athleticism and skill was impressive. There was no shot clock and no three-point line so defense was played quite differently. Packed in zones were more the norm and when teams played man-to-man there was little need to guard players outside twenty one feet as is normally done in the three-point era.

After falling behind by 10, the Cats would scratch back a little but in many respects those first 10 minutes gave the Heels an edge they would never relinquish.

The Heels led 28-22 at half-time as the passing of Pinone from the high post and the mid-range shooting of Dwayne McClain helped the Wildcats to narrow the lead.

Very early in the second half, Howard would pick up his fourth foul and Villanova switched to man-to-man to try to pick up the tempo and cut the lead. The Heels packed their defense in tight, realizing that Villanova's strength was in the front-court - particularly with the mid-range shooting of Howard on the bench.

Half-way through the second half, Villanova had trimmed the lead to five but a lapse of composure led to a series of turnovers and the Carolina lead swelled back to 11. Whenever the Heels needed a big basket, they rang the bell for James Worthy and his quickness was too much for Pinone to handle.

It was very difficult back in that era to come back on a Carolina team. The Heels went four corners, played a wonderful delay game and their fans were chanting "New Orleans" in the emotional closing minutes as UNC sealed the victory with fundamentally sound basketball being executed by enormously talented players.

Villanova learned a few lessons that day. The wins they secured in the NCAA Tournament to advance to play UNC were building blocks for the success achieved in 1983 and 1985 in the NCAAs. The loss to Carolina was a motivator to put in the work to win that kind of a game in the future against an elite opponent.

The Cats would get just such an opportunity the following winter when they took on the #1 ranked Heels in Chapel Hill. Carolina was coming off an emotional, comeback, home win over a Ralph Sampson-led Virginia team and were perhaps ripe for an upset when Villanova arrived around midnight the evening before the game due to delays from a Blizzard in the Northeast.

In '83, the Carolina starters were Perkins, Jordan Doherty, Braddock and Brad Daugherty (just like today, the Heels reloaded quickly then too). Steve Hale and Warren Martin provided bench minutes. The Cats added Harold Pressley to returning players Pinckney, Pinone, Granger, and McClain as the starters with Gary McLain, Mike Mulquin and Frank Dobbs off the pine.

Interesting things to note in revisiting the game: In the pre-"Dean Dome" days, the Heels had one of those old manual scoreboards on the corner of the floor where numbers were flipped over to track the score and time for the fans and TV audience. The Villanova cheerleading squad featured the future bride of current Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright. A baby-faced, Whitey Rigsby took in the action from just behind the Villanova bench, Frank "The Animal" Fletcher vs. Wilford Scypion was promoted as airing later that day. Rollie Massimino was seen diagraming plays during timeouts with the old mock basketball court magnetic board with little circles to move around representing the players. Al McGuire was the color announcer for the broadcast that day and, as usual, had some interesting quotes as the game progressed:

  • "Michael Jordan will be the greatest basketball player ever to graduate from Chapel Hill"
  • "Pinckney is putting on a dunking clinic"
  • On John Pinone: "He doesn't do it with french pastry but he gets the job done"
  • On Gary McLain: "that McLain is like a waterbug"

Unlike in the meeting the previous March, Villanova got off to a quick start. The Heels didn't score until over four minutes in when UNC cut the 'Nova lead to 7-2. The Cats answered with a beautiful baseline out-of-bounds play where Dwayne McClain tossed it to Pinckney on the wing who zipped it to Pressley out top while he darted back door. Pressley rotated the ball to Granger who sent a laser alley-oop pass to EZ Ed for a thunderous flush. It was one of four first-half dunks for Pinckney who was also doing great work on the glass leading Villanova to an early 16-8 rebounding.

The Heels began to get the ball more consistently to Perkins for his feathery mid-range shot, Jordan, who by this point in his Soph season was averaging 19.2 PPG to lead the ACC in scoring, began to exhibit his hang-time and athleticism to score as well. UNC charged back to tie the game at 23. The Cats had possession with a minute remaining in the half and a slim 24-23 lead and decided to play some stall ball of their own - whittling the clock down to two seconds and getting a good look for Mulquin in close only to have it swatted away by Perkins.

'Nova started the second half playing primarily in a 2-3 zone only to see Braddock get hot shooting from the outside. Gary McLain provided a spark for Villanova on a shake-and-bake dribble move that he finished with a floater in the lane (for those more recent fans - think Anthony Collins of USF as a comparable player to a Soph McLain).

The action continued back and forth with Villanova holding a one point lead until Jordan gave the Heels their first lead on a scintillating play where he soared through the lane for an offensive rebound and went right back up on his next jump to hit a fade-away jumper. It would turn out to be the only lead Carolina would hold. Pinone answered with a rather pedestrian baseline jumper for 'Nova.

Ed Pinckney twisted his ankle and was forced to leave the game and take his 11 points to the bench with him. Braddock dropped in a jumper to tie the game at 35 only to have Mulquin answer at the other end with a baseline jumper to put 'Nova back on top. Jordan would soon make another highlight reel play - this time cutting through the lane, leaping, grabbing a pass and squaring to the basket while in mid-air and sinking the jumper.

Villanova then grabbed a quick four point lead with nine minutes remaining, 'Nova decided to take the air out of the ball a bit and wait for a quality shot. They worked the ball through some tenacious Tarheel pressure to find Pressley who made a quick dribble move into the lane and knocked in a runner to put the Cats up six. Villanova would follow that basket with a steal and a McLain pull-up jumper in transition off a feed from Granger to expand the lead to eight (at 45-37) with 7:20 to go. The basket was part of a 12-2 Villanova run which included a 6 minute FG drought by the Heels. That run would prove to be the crucial juncture in the game.

Turnaround was fair play at this point as Villanova took the air out of the ball, made free-throws down the stretch and handled the pressure well enough to walk off with a 56-53 win. At that point in time, the win was the biggest win of Massimino's Villanova tenure.

But there were more chapters in the Massimino story at Villanova and of course more classic games between Villanova and UNC in store for fans in the years to come

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