Georgetown's Pressure Cooks Up a Title
By John Feinstein
Tonight, the hug was a celebration, not a consolation. Because tonight, before 38,471 in the Kingdome, Georgetown finally established the depth and the brilliance of the program Thompson has built, defeating Houston, 84-75, to win the national collegiate basketball championship.
Two years ago, against North Carolina, an errant pass by Brown left an equally superb Georgetown team one basket short of the title. Tonight, there was no denying the Hoyas.
Even with defensive catalyst Gene Smith forced to watch from the bench because of an injury to the arch of his right foot in Saturday's semifinal, Georgetown took the lead for good with more than 32 minutes left in the game and was never in serious trouble after that.
"They do everything a great team should do," said a tearful Akeem Olajuwon, who played most of the second half with four fouls and finished with 15 points and nine rebounds for Houston. "They don't care who scores, who takes the shots. That's the difference. They aren't a selfish team. The unselfish team won tonight."
More specifically, the deepest team won. Even without Smith, nine players contributed to Georgetown's cause. And the key offensive contribution in the second half came from Reggie Williams, the Baltimore freshman who has often struggled this season adjusting to being a reserve. Tonight, Williams scored 19 points, 13 of them in the second half, when the Cougars gamely fought back to within three points. He also had seven rebound, three assists and a key tie-up of Olajuwon when Houston still had a chance to get back in the game.
"Coach has always told me that if I take good shots, he doesn't mind me missing," Williams said. "I just kept taking the shots tonight, because I had good ones."
The Hoyas (34-3) got 16 points from David Wingate, 14 points and five rebounds from their other freshman, Michael Graham, 11 points and six assists from Michael Jackson, and 10 points and nine rebounds from Patrick Ewing.
Although his statistics were not overwhelming, Ewing was named the tournament's most valuable player, and there was little arguing with the choice. It was Ewing who took control of the inside in the first half when the Hoyas built their lead. And it was Ewing who kept Olajuwon from dominating the way he can, pushing him far enough from the basket that Olajuwon rarely got the shot he wanted.
"This morning when we practiced, I came in the gym and Patrick asked me how I was feeling," said Thompson, who was an elated man on this night. "Usually I tell him it's none of his business. Today I told him, 'I feel terrible.' He told me not to feel terrible because we were going to be national champions tonight.
"When the big fella said that, I figured I'd just let him take care of the rest."
Ewing had help, though, more help than Olajuwon, and that was the difference. Although Houston guard Alvin Franklin almost shot his team back into the game in the second half with a game-high 21 points, the Cougars (32-5 and national runners-up for the second straight year) just could not handle the never-ending wave of Georgetown players.
"They were in control most of the game," Houston Coach Guy Lewis said. "Once they got the lead, they controlled the tempo. We have nothing to apologize for. We got beat by a great basketball team."
For five minutes tonight, Houston was more than great, it was perfect. Faced with a 2-3 Georgetown zone, the Cougars promptly made their first seven shots, including two bombs by Michael Young (18 points) over a lunging Ewing.
But it couldn't last. The Hoyas switched to a man to man, the Cougars started missing and Georgetown, after trailing by 14-6 early, methodically took command.
"We didn't want to go to the man to man as early as we did," Thompson said. "But the way they came out and shot we had no choice. I was worried."
Thompson is, by nature, a worrier. His players made sure his worries were pointless tonight. From a 14-6 deficit, they put together a 26-8 run during the next nine minutes and took a 32-22 lead with 6:15 left in the half.
Ewing keyed the surge, not just with three baskets and one lovely assist on a shovel pass to Graham, butas alwayswith his defense.
If there was a key moment, it might have come with the score tied 16-16. Olajuwon rebounded a miss by Rickie Williams and had the ball three feet from the basket, a spot he misses from about once a season.
But Ewing was in his way. Olajuwon faked, Ewing never moved. He went up, Ewing went with him and the little shot roled off the rim. Something seemed to go out of Olajuwon after that play. He worked hard and played courageously with four fouls most of the second half. But he did not seem eager to challenge Ewing again.
"He's the best player I've ever faced," Ewing said later. "Everything was hard work tonight." But that is as it should be in an ultimate game. That is why HOuston must be given credit for coming back after the Hoyas used Ewing's intimidation to spur a 16-6 run that ended with Bill Martin's 15-footer and a 10-point Georgetown lead.
By then, Ewing was on the bench with two fouls and Thompson had spread the team out to pull Houston out of its 2-3 zone. Instead of going man-to-man, Lewis went to "50ZA," his zone trap, putting two men on the ball all over the court.
"We just didn't think we could match up with their quickness in the man," Lewis said. "This was our best chance."
The Cougars' chances would have been helped had they not lost their poise during the last three minutes of the half. With Thompson protecting Ewing and his two fouls, Houston cut into the lead, with help from benchwarmer Benny Anders, whose jump shot and steal helped get the Cougars within 34-30.
But with a chance to slice the lead to two, Young tried a forced, off-balance shot and Jackson promptly made one at the other end. Then Wingate drew Olajuwon's third foul on a driving layup and when he missed the free throw, Brown, playing perhaps his best game in this his last game, rebounded and dished to Wingate for another layup.
It was 40-30 at intermission. "I knew the last 20 minutes would be the longest of my life," Jackson said. "I was right."
It didn't look that way early, when Olajuwon picked up his fourth foul climbing Graham's back in the first 30 seconds and Williams drove right past him on the next possession for a 12-point lead. But Franklin would not quit.
During the next nine minutes, Franklin scored 14 points, slowed only when he had to come out for 90 seconds with a slight ankle twist. When he hit two foul shots with 10"29 left, it was 57-54 and it was a contest.
Enter Williams. Thompson always says a basketball team is built, not hatched. That is why he uses 10 men early in the season even when some of those players are still feeling their way. Tonight, some of those early painful moments paid off.
After Franklin cut the lead to three, Williams drove the middle, missed a short shot, rebounded and put it back for a 59-54 lead. Moments later, after a Reid Gettys charge, Williams made the same move. Only this time when the defense came to him, he slipped the ball to Graham for a ferocious dunk. It was 61-54 with 9:30 left and the Cougars were running out of gas.
Olajuwon tried to make one final move, but Houston never got within five points again. Its one chance to do so came with 2:30 left after Graham had bricked two free throws with the score 74-68. The Cougars went immediately to Olajuwon, posted up. But before he could turn to make his move, the velvety Williams slipped upon him and put his hands firmly on the ball.
The officials called jump ball, it was Georgetown's turn on alternating possessions. Eight seconds later Wingate hit two free throws and after 12 years as coach, John Thompson had taken a tiny Jesuit school to the national championship.
"At times I've been obsessed by the national championship, I've awakened in the middle of the night in the summer saying 'national championship,' " he said. "Now I have one. I don't want 10 like John Wooden, I just wanted to get one."
© Copyright 1984 The Washington Post Company