Game One: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 LSU
The old joke is that the last person to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points on a regular basis was Dean Smith. So far, nobody had been able to hold LSU’s Pete Maravich to under 20 points.
Jordan loves impossible challenges.
Meanwhile his teammate from the early '80s, James Worthy, had been playing a complementary role during the tournament, lying in wait like a sunbathing alligator. Tonight he would get a chance to chomp down on unsuspecting prey in the guise of Tigers swingman Marcus Thornton, who could be a scoring threat—if not for a four-inch height disadvantage.
From the outset, Maravich was clearly out of his element. He could use a variety of fakeouts, diversionary tactics, and sheer will to score against his previous defenders, but against Jordan nothing was working. Midway through the first half he had been reduced to a passer and general spectator.
Meanwhile his teammate, Thornton, was struggling with Worthy on both ends of the floor. Even though Tigers center Shaquille O’Neal had bested Brad Daugherty, LSU coach Dale Brown had seen enough. He put a makeshift lineup of Chris Jackson, Ethan Martin, Rudy Macklin, Bob Pettit, and O’Neal on the floor for the final five minutes of the first half and crossed his fingers.
No dice. At the half UNC was up 43-30.
LSU provided a glimmer of hope 16 minutes before the end when Jordan had to go the bench to treat a cut on his forearm and Maravich was able to get free against Walter Davis. But when Jordan came back in, the Tigers had cut the lead to only six.
One glance at the scoreboard was all it took. Maravich would only be able to muster two free throws the rest of the way before he fouled out in frustration with three minutes left.
With the Tar Heels up by 12 with a minute and a half left, both teams emptied the bench. Of course, these were no walk-ons. Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Glen Davis, and John Williams were some of the players who were finally seeing action merely because of the sheer talent of their teammates. UNC just had a little more where it counted.
Final Score: UNC 86, LSU 75.
Leading Scorers: UNC—Worthy 24, Jordan 21, Ford 11 LSU—O’Neal 19, Jackson 18, Maravich 10
Game Two: No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 6 Maryland
Was it true that Maryland was the most under-seeded team in NCAA history? That was up for debate and will continue to be debated in sports bars and living rooms long after this tournament has been completed.
But they were enough of a threat for Bruin coach John Wooden to make a change to his starting lineup—something he rarely did. He chose to sacrifice (at least at the opening) the offense of Reggie Miller for the All-America talent of Bill Walton.
Even though both Walton and Alcindor were considered centers, Wooden felt Walton’s versatility would enable him to play some of the forward role. Also, he needed Jamaal Wilkes on defense against Len Bias.
Early on, both front lines played each other to a standstill. The overall advantage went to the Terrapins thanks to Albert King, who was able to take advantage over his counterpart Gail Goodrich and boost Maryland to a five-point lead halfway through the opening half.
Having seen enough, Wooden brought in Darren Collison to guard King but soon had another issue to deal with—Walton’s balky knees began to take their toll. This time, Miller sprang off the bench and Wilkes went back to his natural power forward position, where his main duties seemed to be setting picks for Miller to drain three-pointers.
The strategy worked well enough for the Bruins to cling to a four-point lead at halftime but the Terps’ Len Bias was matching Miller’s offensive prowess.
The second half saw Bias and Len Elmore score consecutive baskets to tie things up, but Walt Hazzard fed Alcindor to give the Bruins back the lead. For the first time in the tournament UCLA found a team that could give them a run. Literally.
On offense if either team missed there were few second chances, and, despite quality defense, neither team missed that much. This set the stage for one of the best finishes of the tournament.
Walton had put his team up by one on a free throw with 26 seconds left. Maryland drew up a play during the timeout and Elmore managed to slip past Walton for a layup with 10 seconds left.
UCLA declined the timeout and Hazzard pushed the ball up. Weaving back and forth like a student driver through orange cones, he put up a jumper with two seconds left that fell just short, right into Alcindor’s hands, who threw in a baby hook as the buzzer sounded.
Bedlam ensued in the Garden. The former Power Memorial star had weaved magic in the Big Apple once again.
Final Score: UCLA 80, Maryland 79.
Leading Scorers: UCLA—Alcindor 21, Walton 17, Miller 13 Maryland—Bias 20, Elmore 16, King 14
The tournament concludes Wednesday.