Ralph Sampson dominated play after being involved in the game's most controversial basket, and led Virginia to its first appearance in the NCAA tournament's final four with a 74-60 victory over Brigham Young today in the East region final.
The Cavaliers (28-3) will meet an old nemesis, Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina, in Saturday's semifinals at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
Sampson, who had 22 points, 12 rebounds and four of the most ferocious blocks ever seen by a capacity Omni crowd of 15,461 was not to be thwarted in the second half. He reduced the Cougar trees of 6-foot-11 Greg Kite, 6-10 Fred Roberts and 6-8 Steve Trumbo to saplings as he brought Virginia back from a three-point halftime defecit.
"In the first half, I was, and the team was, a little nervous, tight," Sampson said. "It's hard to compare them (the Cougars) to any other team we've played because everyone plays me physical. In the second half, when they had to go man to man, no one was backing up in my lap, and I could get the shots I wanted."
And almost everything Sampson wanted, he got. But the most controversial was his dunk of Jeff Lamp's miss that gave Virginia the lead for good, 36-35, with 15:53 to play. That also took a little fire and a lot of strategy out of the Cougars when star guard Danny Ainge was called for a technical foul after complaining that Sampson had hung on the rim after the dunk. Television replays didn't show that, but they did show that Sampson may have been guilty of offensive interference.
Virginia turned the possession into five points, taking a 39-35 lead and forcing BYU to play man-to-man defense, which made it play more honestly against the 7-4 Sampson.
Ainge, BYU's top scorer, who had 37 points in a tourney win over UCLA and made the last-second basket to beat Notre Dame here Thursday night, did not have one of his better days shooting. Perhaps out of frustration, he yelled at an official loud enough to get the technical.
"I told him I thought Ralph was hanging on the rim on that dunk, that's all," said Ainge, who made only four of 13 shots and was held to two free throws in the second half. "I guess I complained too much."
Lamp, who scored 18 points and was named the regional's outstanding player, sank the technical free throw. Seconds later Othell Wilson bombed in a 16-footer and Virginia was on its way. After BYU missed, Lee Raker, who in addition to playing on a badly bruised thigh reinjured his back and bloodied his nose, sank a long set shot for two of his 12 points and a six-point lead with 14:42 left.
BYU Coach Frank Arnold said he thought the five-point swing was the turning point. "I don't know what Danny said," Arnold added, "but I know he never uses profanities."
With Sampson firmly planted in the lane, stopping all traffic, and Wilson hanging onto Ainge defensively, the Cavaliers made a 15-9 run that gave them a comfortable lead with 6:07 left. In those eight minutes, Sampson had eight points, five rebounds and two blocks.
"When Sampson got going, things got difficult for us," Arnold said. "When we were down by only six points, we had two problems: Sampson and the deficit. They got the lead and Sampson went to the sky hooks and the jumpers. A guy (like Sampson) shooting 18-footers is criminal."
After a sky hook from the lane gave the Cavaliers their 12-point lead, the BYU reserves breathed a loud sigh and resigned themselves to clock watching for the rest of the game.
Ainge led his team with 13 points, Roberts and Steve Craig each had 12 and Trumbo 11. The Cougars (25-7) outrebounded Virginia by one, but couldn't find a rebound, especially off the offensive board, when they needed it most.
Fouled repeatedly near the end, the Cavaliers made 18 straight free throws.
"To show what a good coach I am, I told my players to foul Wilson (10 points) and Jeff Jones (10) instead of Lamp and Raker," Arnold said. "And what happens, Wilson and Jones go 10 for 10."
A good zone defense kept the Cavaliers off the foul line in the first half. In fact, BYU's tight 2-3 zone kept the Cavaliers from doing much of anything. Had it not been for Sampson and Lamp, who scored 14 points that half, Virginia might have been too far to rally.
The BYU players muscled inside for 18 points and Ainge got free long enough to score 11 as the third-place finisher from the Western Athletic Conference led at halftime, 31-28. The game was even at 14 when Sampson took a break. In the next two minutes, BYU went ahead, 19-14. Robert's turn-around shot gave the Cougars their biggest lead, 27-20, with 3:10 to play.
But Lamp hit two fallaway shots and Sampson and Raker each added a field goal and Virginia was back in the race.
"We were able to sub a lot in the first half and we went to the locker room down only three," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "We felt we were in good shape. The thing I was concerned about was BYU's getting to the glass (rebounding) as much as they were. We had to get everyone in the lane on the defensive board to offset that. Ralph did a great job inside and we shot the ball much better.
"And we went to our man defense, that was the key. That's our basic defense. Once we went ahead, BYU had to go to a man and we did a good job of working to get the shots we wanted. It was tough with those trees in there, but the guys worked hard and earned this trip to Philadelphia."
Sampson, Lamp and Raker, Ainge and Notre Dame's Orlando Woolridge were named to the East region all-tournament team.