In the end, it's all 'Nova

Posted: March 26, 2009

(Published in Daily News, April 2, 1985)

LEXINGTON, Ky. - They came to watch a coronation.

What they saw was a palace revolt.

Yes, Villanova, a team that no one thought had much of a chance to beat mighty Georgetown, is the national champion today.

The Wildcats (25-10) earned that title by stunning the top-ranked Hoyas (35-3), 66-64, last night in front of a sellout crowd of 23,124 in the NCAA championship game at Rupp Arena.

"In the country, I don't think there were more than five people out of 250 million who would have said, 'Villanova's going to win tonight,' " sophomore guard Harold Jensen said. "I'd like to thank those people."

Jensen helped the Wildcats ride home a long shot, scoring six of his 14 points in the last 2:36 as Villanova - which had been to the Final Four twice before - won its first-ever NCAA championship.

The only other city school to win a national basketball title was the 1954 La Salle Explorers.

Last night's dramatic victory earned Villanova coach Rollie Massimino a congratulatory call from President Reagan and set off wild celebrations throughout the Delaware Valley.

The city will officially celebrate the Wildcats' win with a parade, which is scheduled for midday today. The team was scheduled to arrive at Philadelphia International Airport between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m.

The win also brought back images of North Carolina State's upset over Houston two years ago in Albuquerque, N.M.

"I didn't feel that we were Cinderella," Jensen said. "Our coaching staff prepares us well. If we executed our offense and defense, I thought we would be in the game at the end."

Villanova, which had lost to Georgetown twice during the regular season, shot like true winners the third time around. The Wildcats set a championship game record by hitting 22 of 28 shots (78.6 percent) from the field. They were an incredible 9-for-10 in the second half against a team that led the country in field goal percentage defense.

The 'Cats also received an all-time performance from Jensen, who had struggled for most of two seasons before coming to life in the tournament.

Jensen was a perfect 5-for-5 against the Hoyas, knocking down a 16-foot jumper from the right wing that gave Villanova a 55-54 lead with 2:36 to play. It set the wheels in motion for the 'Cats' finishing kick.

"If I'm wide open, Coach always tells me to put the ball up in that situation," Jensen said. "And, fortunately, it went.

"We got up one and it seemed to give everyone a boost. We had gone down and, after you get behind against Georgetown, some people crack. Fortunately for us, we didn't tonight."

Especially not Jensen. Down the stretch he twice converted both ends of one-and-one free throw situations as the Wildcats increased their lead to 61-54 with 1:10 remaining.

Before Jensen went to the line for his second one-and-one, he trotted over to Jake Nevin and kissed the 78-year-old trainer on the top of his bald head.

"This one's for you," Jensen told 'Nova's Irish leprechaun, who was sitting in a wheelchair by the Wildcat bench.

Indeed it was for Nevin and for Al Severance, the 79-year-old former Villanova coach who had suffered a massive coronary earlier in the day at the team's motel and was pronounced dead at St. Joseph Hospital across the street.

"It's too bad he (Severance) couldn't be with us," Massimino said. "Father (Bernard) Lazor, our team chaplain, made the statement that hopefully Al was somewhere in heaven today, swatting the ball from the basket to give us a shot to win."

Such is the stuff of miracles.

After taking the team to Mass yesterday afternoon, Massimino sent the players to their rooms for 15 minutes to meditate.

"I wanted them to think about the game and think of two things," he said. "One, not to play with the idea of not to lose, but to play to win. Second, I wanted them to tell themselves they were good enough to win, that in a one-shot deal, they could beat anyone in the United States."

Despite the fact that Georgetown was an overwhelming 9 1/2-point favorite, Massimino said he honestly had a good feeling about the Wildcats' chances to knock off the Hoyas.

"We were the only team that held them under 60 all year," he said. "Those of you who watched the ESPN rerun of our game with them in Landover (Md.) today, you saw that, with three minutes to go, we were winning and the (45-second shot) clock was involved. We didn't try to hold the ball tonight. We just tried to control the tempo.

"Georgetown is just a great basketball team and, for us to do what we did wasn't such a great coaching job. We shot 79 percent. They made me look good."

The heroes were many, including:

Dwayne McClain, a 6-6 senior forward, who shot 5-for-7 from the field and 7-for-8 from the foul line to lead the Wildcats with 17 points.

Center Ed Pinckney, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, who fought off the effects of a stomach virus to contribute 16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.

Harold Pressley, who always seems to play well against Georgetown, had 11 points. His follow-up with four seconds left gave Villanova a 29-28 halftime lead.

Gary McLain, the spunky senior lead guard, turned the ball over only twice in 40 minutes against the Hoyas' trapping defense.

And don't forget Jensen, who joined Pinckney, McClain, McLain and Georgetown center Patrick Ewing on the all-tournament team. Jensen bailed out the 'Cats after Georgetown had come back from a 53-48 deficit to take a 54-53 lead when David Wingate drilled a bank shot over Pressley with 4:50 to go.

Pinckney merited the MVP award by outplaying Ewing, the consensus-All America.

Ewing, the seven-foot senior who will become an instant millionaire in the upcoming NBA draft, scored 14 points, but had just two field goals in the second half, getting off only one shot in the final 13:09 against Villanova's suffocating 2-3 matchup zone.

But, even with Ewing struggling, the Hoyas, leading by one, appeared to gain control of the game when Pinckney drove and lost the ball out of bounds with four minutes to go. Georgetown coach John Thompson immediately ordered his team into a spread offense.

But Villanova regained possession with 3:32 left when Bill Martin made a bad pass to Horace Broadnax. It kicked off Broadnax's leg and McClain scooped it up.

That's when Jensen nailed his right wing jumper.

"We were patient for about 45 seconds," Jensen said. "When I caught the ball, I was thinking shot because I saw one of their wing players - I think it was Michael Jackson - in the lane. I think they thought we were going to try to get the ball to Eddie."

Two months ago, Jensen might not have taken the shot. He admits to having lost confidence in his game. But, just before the Big East Conference tournament, Daddy Mass called Jensen in for a "father-to-son" talk.

"I told him to relax and just go out and play," Massimino said. "I've been trying to tell Harold for two years that I wouldn't trade him or Dwight Wilbur for any guard in the country."

Jensen repaid Massimino's confidence by nailing his free throws to send the 'Cats up, 61-56. But the Hoyas refused to die peacefully, even after McClain made a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left to drive the score to 65-60.

Jackson scored on a driving layup to cut the 'Cats' lead to three and, after Pressley made one of two free throws after being intentionally fouled with 10 seconds to go, scored again with five seconds to play.

Since Georgetown had no timeouts left and Villanova had five seconds left in which to inbound the ball, the game figured to be over. But officials stopped the clock with two seconds to play after Wingate knocked the dead ball into the stands.

"If they were slapping it, that's a technical foul," Massimino said.

"Once they stopped the clock, we were going to do something we never had done," Massimino said. "We were going to flash Harold Pressley and Dwayne to the ball with Edward and Gary at midcourt. We were going to wait for two seconds to get the ball to the wings. If not, we were going to throw the ball to midcourt and let anyone catch the ball and make sure time ran out. We weren't going to get the ball in three feet from the basket."

Jensen inbounded the ball to McClain, who had been knocked to the floor. But Dwayne cradled the ball as time ran out.

That meant the time was right for Villanova's wild on-court celebration, featuring Pinckney and McClain jumping up on the scorer's table.

"Everybody thought Georgetown. Everybody thought Georgetown," Pinckney screamed at the media.

"April Fools'," Dwayne McClain shouted out.

Yes, Villanova is the national champion.

And that's no joke.

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