Outside the Spectrum, all you see are glorious mountains painted gold by the sun. Inside, all the University of Wyoming basketball players saw were more marvels of nature, these in the blue and white of Georgetown, eight fellows whose 51-43 NCAA tournament victory prompted the unusual question: do these guys have arms nine feet longgggggggg?
"They have tremendous wingspan," said the Wyoming coach, Jim Brandenburg. "They're good, quick guys who play that gap 1-3-1 so well that the only pass you can make is funneled toward Ewing. So what do you do? Go with the perpendicular pass outside, or take the thing against Ewing?"
In English, the coach was saying his Western Athletic Conference champions couldn't complete a pass except into the path that Georgetown leaves clear toward its majestic 7-footer, Patrick Ewing, who if he didn't block every shot surely caused Wyoming a severe case of trembles. Brandenburg, for one, thinks that Ewing, from fingertip to fingertip, is as tall as Mount Beaver and a lot more agile.
In that gap 1-3-1 zone, Ewing does work no 7-footer ever has done. He covers from the top of the key to the base line. This frees the other Hoyas to gamble for steals and interceptions.
The Georgetown defense that limited its three previous opponents to a total of 17 second-half field goals was so good today that Wyoming, normally careful with the ball, was turned into a bunch of bumblers so dreadful you had to look twice to see if maybe they were wearing mittens against the day's Wasatch Mountain chill.
Wyoming committed 18 turnovers, seven more than Georgetown, and failed so miserably at moving the ball inside that its 7-footer, Chris Engler, was rendered invisible after making four baskets the first eight minutes. He was one for five after that, and so shaken he probably believed himself later when he said, "No, it wasn't frustrating . . . Ewing blocked a few, but it didn't bother us."
Well, now. Georgetown led, 31-26, when Ewing rose near the sun to knock down Engler's 10-footer with 17 minutes left. Wyoming (23-6) scored only two field goals the next 11 minutes. Engler didn't score until 1:53 showed on the clock.
So it was a little zone, a little Ewing and a whole lot of defense that won for Georgetown today. The Hoyas built a 29-24 halftime lead on Eric Floyd's 10 points and raised the lead to seven on Eric Smith's almost perfect second half. When that lead was cut to three, Smith and Floyd combined for the game's last five points in a pressurized 78 seconds.
The West Regional's top-seeded team, Georgetown (27-6) next will meet Fresno State in a Thursday game down the road in Provo. Fresno State (27-2) rallied late for a 50-46 victory over West Virginia (27-4) here as Rod Higgins scored 18 points and made four free throws in the final 67 seconds for the winners.
If Georgetown had one more shooter, the NCAA could pack up the trophy now and ship it to the Hilltop. The Hoyas made eight steals, forcing four turnovers in the first three minutes of each half, and worried the Cowboys so much their all-America forward, Bill Garnett, managed only five shots (and five points).
"Their offense didn't beat us, their defense did," Brandenburg said after the Hoyas put just Smith and Floyd (13, 11) in double figures. "Our guards got a little too tentative against the press, and our inside people didn't pass the ball well. We dug our own grave with turnovers."
Eric Smith handed them the shovel. Besides leading the Hoyas in scoring for the first time in their 27-6 season, Smith was the constant pestiferous force in that defense that so discombobulated the Cowboys. The official statistics gave Smith one steal; he made maybe four, at least two in the last two minutes when it mattered most.
"We weren't worried," Smith said of Wyoming's late rally, a rally that caused most of the 9,546 spectators to cheer at DC-9 decibels for the underdogs. "At those times late in games, you have to concentrate more. You have to play good defense to make them use up time. We did that."
With Garnett invisible and Engler intimidated, Wyoming's offensive load fell on guard Mike Jackson, whose idea of a good shot is anything inside the building. He made two 25-footers, three-pointers in the pros, to pull Wyoming to 44-41 with 3:49 left.
Smith's two free throws made it 46-41 before Engler's lone second-half basket made it a three-point game again.
Smith missed a free throw at 1:18.
But Jackson responded with a 22-foot brick.
By now Georgetown had been in its delay offense for eight minutes. Wyoming's most effective defense is a 2-3 zone with its skyscrapers (7-0, 6-10, 6-9) lined up down low. Forced to a man-to-man by the delay, the Cowboys lost track of Freddie Brown momentarily. The Hoya sophomore guard, playing with his sore left hamstring heavily wrapped, made two baskets when Wyoming thought to challenge.
And now, in the last minute, Floyd drew a foul running the delay.
He made the first free throw with 38 seconds left, but missed the second, giving Wyoming a chance.
Freshman guard Rodney Gowens, running away from Smith's pressure, promptly threw the ball out of bounds. Smith's in-bounds pass was a long lob to Floyd for a wide-open layup and a 49-43 lead with only 24 seconds left.
Smith next forced another turnover by Gowens. When fouled, he made two free throws with six seconds to go. The Georgetown coach, John Thompson, then and only then, moved happily along his bench, saying, "Hey, hey," and slapping hands with his players.
"When teams scare us," Thompson said later, "we play better. Wyoming scared me. I like it when we have that apprehensiveness and fear behind us."
"On a scale of 100," said Smith, "give us, hmmm, an 85."
As quickly as he left freshman Gowens wondering where the ball went, Smith changed his mind. "Make it a 90," he said with a winner's chuckle.