NCAA tournament:’85 champs rooting on current crop of Wildcats

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 3, 2009

By Dan Geltson
Associated PressVILLANOVA, Pa. ó TV timeout, there’s Rollie Massimino on the screen. Big Villanova run, cue up Daddy Mass again.
Looking for front row seats behind the Wildcats bench? Sorry, taken. Massimino and crew sit in the prime spots.
It’s 1985 all over again at Villanova and Massimino, the coach who led the Wildcats to one of the great championship upsets in sports history, is rooting on his former program and protege Jay Wright to win it all in their first Final Four since that oh-so perfect night 24 years ago in Lexington, Ky.
“The ‘Cats are back,” Massimino said this week. “Spread the word.”
Ask any dejected fans or players at UCLA, Duke or Pittsburgh, and the message has been spread by blowout and buzzer-beater defeats: Villanova is back on the national scene with its run at a second national title.
Their biggest backers are the players from that ’85 team that pulled off perhaps the most amazing run of upsets in NCAA tournament history, culminating with a 66-64 shocker against Big East rival Georgetown in the final.
Now, Massimino and the rest want to make room in the rafters for one more championship banner.
“Here they are, back again,” said former guard Gary McLain. “It’s almost like you feel them knocking on our door, on our memory. I’m a true supporter of Villanova, and I would like everybody to experience the feeling of what it’s like to go to the Final Four and win.”
Both Wildcats were the lowest-seeded teams left in the tournament when they reached the Final Four. While this year’s Wildcats (30-7) are a No. 3 seed, the 1985 team remains the lowest-seeded team (No. 8) to ever win a national championship.
Both teams had North Carolina in their way ó the national champs used Massimino’s “pasta and clam sauce” halftime speech to roll past the Tar Heels in the regional final, and Wright’s team plays No. 1 seed North Carolina (32-4) on Saturday in Detroit.
“Of course there are similarities, but it’s a different era,” said Massimino, who coached Villanova from 1973-92.
The 1985 tournament was the last one played without a shot clock and the first one with an expanded field of 64 teams.
Villanova won games against Dayton, top-seeded Michigan, No. 5 Maryland, No. 2 North Carolina, and No. 2 Memphis State before brushing off “Hoya Paranoia” to shock Patrick Ewing and defending champion Georgetown. The Wildcats shot 22-for-28 from the floor overall and made nine of 10 shots in the second half. They were 22-for-27 from the line, including 11-for-14 in the last two minutes.
The head coaches in Saturday’s game are both connected to the 1985 tournament.
North Carolina’s Roy Williams was an assistant under Dean Smith in 1985 and marveled at one of the more thrilling title games in history.
“I thought it was one of the most amazing exhibitions of almost-perfect basketball I had ever seen in the championship game,” Williams said. “It was one of the most close-to-perfect games I think I had ever seen.”
Wright watched the game on TV in upstate New York where he was an assistant coach and intramural director at the University of Rochester. Wright attended the semifinal win over Memphis State ó he was there for his first coach’s convention ó only to have to return to Rochester to run intramurals on that Monday.
Only five years later, Wright was an assistant under Massimino. He became Villanova’s head coach in 2001.
“I looked up to him as a kid, as an idol, because I was a Villanova fan,” Wright said. “When I got into coaching, he was my inspiration. I wanted to be like him. Then I got to work for him, and I learned everything from him. I’ve tried to run our program like he ran his program.”
Wright and the Wildcats are in position to make history nearly a quarter century later, and they needed every last tick of the clock to get here. It was Scottie Reynolds who forever etched his name in Villanova and March Madness history with his half-court race to the rim that gave the Wildcats a 78-76 victory over Pittsburgh in the East Regional final.
Former Villanova center Chuck Everson, who was tangled in a skirmish with Georgetown’s Reggie Williams on the last play of the first half in 1985, texted Wright after the game with one request.
“I told him 24 years has been long enough. Go get another one,” Everson said. “The ’85 guys are really close with these guys and all the guys that come through.”