Ed Pinckney was sharing an elevator with Pat Riley during their time together with the Miami Heat when the coach asked the big man about a far more exciting ride.
“I want to know what Rollie said the second half of the North Carolina game,” Riley asked.
“That’s what you want to ask me?” Pinckney replied, incredulously.
Yes, from Miami to the Main Line, Villanova’s improbable 1985 national championship shadows the Wildcats no matter where they are. Ask Dwayne McClain, who played pro ball in countries all over the world and spent most of the last decade in Australia.
Whenever anyone recognized him, they always said, “Dwayne McClain, from Villanova?”
No upset in the NCAA Tournament has ever come close to that April 1, 1985, night in Lexington, Ky., when coach Rollie Massimino led his team to a stunning 66-64 victory over the reigning dynasty of basketball and defending champion Georgetown Hoyas.
“It transcended basketball,” McClain said.
Villanova wasn’t so much an underdog as it was an afterthought going into the NCAA Tournament. The heralded senior class of Pinckney, McClain and outgoing point guard Gary McLain managed only a 19-10 regular-season record.
Five of the losses were to Big East rivals Georgetown and St. John’s, when those teams were ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. The other five losses were to teams that made the 64-team NCAA field.
Using stifling defense and a patient offense in the last NCAA season without a shot clock, they won games against Dayton, top-seeded Michigan and Maryland before coming from behind at the half to beat second-seeded North Carolina.
Dwayne McLain, the cool, cocky catalyst, sealed the 52-45 semifinal win over Memphis State with four free throws in the final minute. Georgetown, led by coach John Thompson and future NBA No. 1 pick Patrick Ewing, beat St. John’s to reach the finals for the third time in four seasons.
No one expected Villanova to be competitive – except for the pudgy Massimino and his spunky team.
Pinckney outscored Ewing 16-14 and outrebounded him 6-5. The Wildcats were feted with a parade in downtown Philadelphia and remain the area’s last pro or college team to win a championship.
1975: Wooden’s swan song
It’s been 30 years since the top two teams in the Associated Press poll met in college basketball’s national championship game.
No matter what happens tonight when top-ranked Illinois faces North Carolina, it won’t affect the sport the way the last 1-2 title matchup did.
No. 1 UCLA beat Kentucky 92-85 that night in 1975 in San Diego to give John Wooden his 10th national championship in his final game.
The man who created the dynasty that changed the sport had announced after the semifinals that the next game would be his last, win or lose. No one – not his staff, players or family – knew the stunning announcement was about to come.
Wooden has recounted that day many times.
“We had just defeated Louisville, and at that time I had no intentions of retiring,” he said of the semifinal against a team coached by Denny Crum, his former assistant. “I met Denny, a dear friend, at the end of the floor, and I knew I had to go and face the TV lights. I wasn’t feeling well. I had had heart trouble, and my wife wasn’t feeling well.
“I found myself suddenly dreading to face that, and I found myself walking off the floor alone and walked in the dressing room first to talk to my players and tell them how proud I was and regardless of how the Monday night game came out, ‘I want you players to know I was never prouder of any team I have ever coached than of this one, the last team I’ll ever coach.’ Nobody moved.
“Then I went to the press conference and I made much the same statement when someone asked me to compare this team with other teams that had won the national championship. My athletic director was stunned.”
Rarity: No. 1 vs. No. 2 title games
There have been five other 1-2 matchups in the championship game, including two in as many years between the same two schools with the same result.
Second-ranked Cincinnati beat No. 1 Ohio State in 1961 and 1962 for the school’s only national championships.
The Bearcats won 70-65 in overtime in 1961 and then prevailed 71-59 the next year. Ohio State had won the title in 1960 and had a roster that included Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and a reserve who went on to win three championships of his own as coach at Indiana – Bob Knight.
Wooden’s second championship came in a 1-2 matchup when the second-ranked Bruins, behind Gail Goodrich’s 42 points, beat Michigan and Cazzie Russell 91-80 in 1965.
Top-ranked North Carolina needed three overtimes to beat Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas 54-53 in the 1957 title game.
The other 1-2 title matchup came in the first season the Associated Press conducted its poll. Top-ranked Kentucky beat Oklahoma A&M 46-36 in 1949 with Alex Groza scoring 25 points for the Wildcats.
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