Notre Dame's game plan was simple: control the tip, go into a delay offense and pray. The execution of the strategy was more complicated. To start with, Ralph Sampson last year's college basketball player of the year, was jumping center for Virginia.
The Fighting Irish lost the tip, but got a second chance when Virginia missed its first shot. The Irish immediately returned to their stall. The strategy worked 30 seconds before Tom Sluby slipped and threw a pass out of bounds. Virginia scored this time and was on the way to an 87-54 rout last night at Capital Centre.
"I guess you can say Virginia ruined my homecoming," said the 6-foot-4 Sluby, a former all-Met at Gonzaga and The Washington Post Player of the Year in 1979-80. "All of my people were here to see the game and I think they know we're struggling right now. Everyone knows we're doing the best we can. We're a young team and it's going to take time. Right now, it looks like we might be heading toward a rough season.
"We came into this game feeling we had a chance to win. My family knows I don't like to lose. It's especially tough to take a loss like this in front of people at home."
Notre Dame (2-8), loser of four straight on a five-game road trip, never had a chance against the second-ranked Cavaliers. Sampson did what he wanted, when he wanted.
"You look at Ralph, Craig (Robinson) and Othell (Wilson), all experienced people and look at us . . . " said Cecil Rucker, a former all-Met from Mackin High School. "We are just a young team and we can't play with some teams right now. We've lost to some teams I certainly didn't expect to lose to, like Murray State, Northern Illinois and Missouri. Had you told me in September we would be 2-8 right now, I would have laughed in your face."
There were very few smiles in the Irish locker room after the game. Most of the players sat and stared as if they couldn't believe what had just happened. After all, this was Notre Dame.
Irish Coach Digger Phelps didn't offer any excuses, calling it a case of "growing pains."
"We just need some big people and we won't be back until we get some," said Phelps. "Right now we need to beat somebody good. We'll get better, and we'll win, because we've won before."
Sluby and Rucker, who finished with 10 and three points, respectively, shared Phelps' optimism.
"What do we have left--about 18 or 19 games?" Rucker said. "We can still have a good season. We can't do much about this one, Virginia is a very good team. We had started to do a lot of things right before this game. It doesn't help your game when you're a natural forward and you have to go out and guard Sampson."