Even two steps from the summit of this college basketball season, the Georgetown Hoyas continue to be a commuting team. They are staying 97 miles east of here, in Biloxi, Miss., preparing for Saturday's game against Louisville in the NCAA semifinals.
"I didn't go to Biloxi for any advantage. I went there for peace of mind," Coach John Thompson said at a press conference today. "I just felt it would be best to get into an atmosphere where we could concentrate . . . They (his players) can come to New Orleans any time to see Bourbon Street (the center of French Quarter night life). This is a very important opportunity for us."
The Georgetown-Louisville game is scheduled to begin at approximately 6:15 p.m. EST, after top-ranked North Carolina opens the doubleheader at the Louisiana Superdome against Houston. A total of more than 61,000, which would be the largest indoor crowd in basketball history, is expected. The games will be telecast nationally by CBS (WDVM-TV-9 in Washington).
North Carolina is a six-point favorite and Georgetown a 4 1/2-point pick to advance to Monday's 8:12 p.m. EST national championship game.
Thompson kept his team in Salt Lake City the two weeks the Hoyas played West Regional games at Logan and Provo, each more than 50 miles away. Today, Thompson conceded that his strategy of avoiding the media, gamblers, fans and alumni may be backfiring.
"It's great copy," Thompson said. "I'm creating probably the very thing I try to avoid."
Asked his reaction to being the first black coach in the final four, Thompson replied:
"I resent the hell out of it (the question). It implies I was the first person competent enough to do this, which is a very misleading statement. There have been several people who were more qualified than I am to be here, but they were denied the opportunity. I don't take any honor and dignity in being the first black anything, anywhere. It implies that I was the first to have the ability and the intelligence, and I find it extremely offensive."
Thompson brought his five seniors to today's press conference. He had not allowed interviews with any of his players in Biloxi. Asked about staying there, all-America guard Eric Floyd said, "Well, a couple of gyms to practice in is more important to us at this stage than a big vacation . . . I can come back to see Bourbon Street anytime."
Biloxi has "a nice beach," said forward Eric Smith, "but I'm still trying to figure out if the city has a downtown. If Coach Thompson says we're in Biloxi, then so be it. Whatever is necessary to win."
In Louisville, Georgetown (29-6), which has won nine straight, will be facing a team with four starters back from the 1980 national champions. But, according to both the Hoyas and the Cardinals, that experience won't matter in this game.
For Georgetown, according to Thompson, the key is keeping Louisville (23-9) from getting offensive rebounds. For Louisville, according to Coach Denny Crum, the key is stopping 7-foot freshman center Patrick Ewing, who is four inches taller than any Cardinal starter.
Both teams are similar in style. Both love the full-court pressing defense and the transition game. Louisville prefers man-to-man defense; the Hoyas play a lot of zone. Both are quick and have considerable depth.
"It's hard to look at both teams and try to pick out specific strengths and weaknesses," said Thompson. "At some times we've looked bad and at others we've looked very good. The key is to be consistent. None of the four teams here have any glaring weaknessess.
"Louisville is a very good team. There is some merit in being an exprienced team, but if they beat us it won't be because they've been here before. It'll be because they were better than we were."
Neither team won its conference, but played especially well in the conference tournament and early rounds of the NCAA playoffs. Georgetown, which finished second in the Big East to Villanova, a team it defeated three times, including the tournament final, has been strong defensively all season. Its offense has picked up recently.
In three West Regional games, the Hoyas won by a total of 50 points while shooting 63.3 percent, a tournament-record pace. In its 69-45 regional title victory over Oregon State, Georgetown shot an NCAA tournament game record 74.4 percent.
The Hoyas' defense was just as effective, and much of the credit for that goes Ewing, who is averaging only 13 points and seven rebounds a game. He has blocked 116 shots, but, more importantly, has almost single-handedly changed a lot of game plans very quickly.
"Patrick has become a smarter player, he's using his head now in addition to his physical skills," said 6-9 backup center Ed Spriggs. "Louisville is a physical team, but we've seen physical teams before."
Louisville finished second in the Metro Conference and lost in the tournament final to Memphis State, which was led by 6-10 Keith Lee.
Of Ewing, Crum said, "He's the big key inside. He's quick, mobile and plays good defense. I'm very impressed with him."
Cardinal point guard Jerry Eaves said his team has "played without a 7-footer all year and done fine.
"Hey, our guys have hit the boards against everybody. We'll come in and do what we do best: rebound, run and play defense."
If the game turns into the get-it-up-quick contest, some people envision, depth will be important. Louisville, which uses as many as 10 players, undoubtedly will go right at Ewing, hoping to get the talented center in foul trouble early.
"The team whose bench produces the most will win the game," said the Cardinals' 6-7 senior forward Derek Smith. "Sure, we've been here (the final four) before, but that was a long time ago. The only advantage we might have is that we know what it takes to win it all."
Smith, 6-7 Rodney McCray, 6-8 Wiley Brown and key reserves 6-8 Charles Jones and 6-9 Scooter McCray all love to play in the lanes and will not be intimidated by Ewing. Two of the Cardinals' top scorers, 6-5 Poncho Wright and Milt Wagner, are ailing a bit but are expected to play. Wright has a sore foot and Wagner has to wear golf gloves and special socks to protect his peeling hands and feet, the aftereffect of a virus infection.
Houston (25-7), the surprise team here, will come out running and take the first shot available, according to Coach Guy Lewis, whose team was Southwest Conference runner-up.
"We believe in getting the ball up quick and taking the first good shot. No overpassing," he said. "We're not the run-and-shoot team people describe us as, we just want to take the quick shot. We're a good defensive team and we have good balance, although Rob Williams (22-point average) is our high scorer.
"I guess I have to be concerned about their (the Tar Heels') board strength because they're a better rebounding team than we are. Their four corners is a big problem, too, but I don't think they'll run it very long if they're behind."
Houston will be playing a Carolina team (30-2) that has won 14 straight and is eager to give Coach Dean Smith his first championship in seven trips to the final four. Only one other coach, UCLA's John Wooden, has been there more times, 12. Smith has lost in the final three times, last year to Indiana.
"I'm tired of hearing about how Carolina chokes in the final," said guard Jimmy Black. "Don't forget, we lost in the final before and we know how it feels."
Carolina does have the advantage inside with 6-10 Sam Perkins and 6-9 James Worthy. Matt Doherty, Michael Jordan and Black are fine outside shooters and can run with the Cougars.
Houston, which finished strong despite a midseason slump, is the highest scoring team in the final four, averaging 82 points a game. At the same time, the Cougars allow 74 a game.
"We take that first shot and the other team just has more time to get a shot," Lewis said. "You don't have to hold down the score to play good defense."