Terry Holland may think he is watching the Soviet Union basketball team when Virginia (23-10) battles Minnesota (21-10) for the 43rd NIT championship tonight at 9 o'clock at Madison Square Garden.
"They look like the Russians out there," remarked Cavalier Coach Holland, referring to the Golden Gophers' mauling tactics in their 65-63 triumph over Big 10 rival Illinois in the semifinals Monday night. "We have to be very concerned about the backboard. We have to keep them off the offensive glass and at the same time get a few second shots for us."
The Cavaliers, appearing in the tournament for the third time, would like nothing better than to cap their up-and-down season with the NIT trophy, particularly since their 7-foot-4 stalwart, Ralph Sampson, again offered the possibility of his turning pro this year.
"I would consider all offers," said the talented freshman, who had 26 points, 15 rebounds and blocked four shots in the surprisingly easy 90-71 scalping of Nevada-Las Vegas in the other half of the doubleheader Monday night.
"As of now I'm going back to Virginia, but it would depend on how much money the pros are talking about. I don't know if I'm ready physically or mentally and I'd probably get banged around a bit and get tired."
Sampson, who has said all year that he might go pro, recently told Holland he would remain at Virginia at least through his sophomore season.
"He told us he was staying another year, but that there was always the possibility he might leave," said Holland at today's noon press conference. "Right now, we're not thinking about it. We'll sit down at the end of the season and discuss the issue."
Sampson (14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds) was very impressive in his Garden debut and has played well throughout the tournament.But the agile player, who relies on finesse and quickness, will be in for a pro-style bump-and-bang evening when he faces Minnesota.
The Gophers start 6-11, 230-pound Kevin McHale and 6-10, 220-pound Gary Holmes. Before the clock has reached too many ticks, in come 7-2, 210-pound Randy Breuer and 6-9, 235-pound Ben Coleman. The muscular foursome is in for one reason -- to hit the boards.
"With Kevin and Danny inside, we don't give up too many layups," said Minnesota Coach Jim Dutcher. "But then UVA, with Sampson in there, doesn't give up many, either."
Dutcher said he wasn't worried his team would go another 11-minute stretch without a field goal against Virginia, as it did in the win over Illinois.
"We're a good shooting team and I doubt if that would happen again," said Dutcher. 'Anyway, the team that controls the boards will control the game. We've got big people and we go to the glass."
McHale, who will be a high pick in the draft this year, leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 17.7 and 8.9 averages, respectively. Guards Mark Hall and Darryl Mitchell are next in scoring with 11.8 and 10.7 point averages. Mitchell's two free throws with 14 seconds left were the winning margin for Minnesota Monday night.
Sampson will need help inside from either 6-8 Terry Gates, 6-6 Mike Owens or 6-5 Lee Raker if the Cavs are to have a chance on the boards.
UVA's advantage is in the back court. Jeff Lamp, who tallied 30 points Monday night, will surely draw a lot of attention, as will point guard Jeff Jones. The deceptive 6-4 Jones did a remarkable job of handling Las Vegas' full-court pressure, in addition to scoring seven points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out 12 assists.
"This is not a Big Ten versus-ACC game to prove which conference is better," said Lamp, averaging 17.6 points. "This happens to be the last game of the year for both of us. We don't have to be concerned about next week's game. Only two schools will end the season on a high note (NCAA and NIT champions) and we can be one of them."