By Doug Doughty
Roanoke (Va.) Times
March 29, 2004 THE 1983-1984 SEASON CHARLOTTESVILLE The story was so good the first time that it has undergone little embellishing over the years. In 1984, when Virginia made its second and the more unlikely of its two trips to the Final Four, then-coach Terry Holland thought so little of the Cavaliers' NCAA chances that he felt the need to lobby National Invitation Tournament chairman Pete Carlesimo not for a spot in the NIT field, but for a first-round road game. I told him, Make us play UCLA at UCLA,' Holland said. I asked him not to schedule us against somebody the kids had never heard of. We needed a challenge. UCLA was not far removed from the days when it dominated the sport and, when the Bruins received an invitation to the NIT, they declined. Virginia didn't play in the NIT, either, and nobody could have predicted that its NCAA experience would last for three weekends. The Cavaliers had made the Final Four only once with three-time national player of the year Ralph Sampson, whose career ended in the West Regionals in 1983, when UVa lost to eventual champion N.C. State 63-62 in Ogden, Utah. The Wolfpack earlier had ended Sampson's last chance for an ACC title, 81-78 in the championship game. Virginia's 10-0 start in 1983-84 came without a victory over a top-20 team, and a home loss to Duke in the ACC opener got the Cavaliers started on a downward spiral that resulted in six losses in an eight-game span, including four in a row. They appeared to right the ship with three straight late-season wins but then lost at Maryland on the final weekend of the regular season. After a lackluster outing in a 63-51 loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament, UVa finished 6-9 against conference teams. At the time, Virginia athletic director Dick Schultz was a first-year member of the NCAA selection committee, a group he later chaired. Schultz wasn't as powerful then as he was later, as head of the NCAA and the United States Olympic Committee, but the connection did not go unnoticed. There were 48 teams in the NCAA Tournament in 1984, including 24 (compared to 34 this year) that received at-large bids. Nevertheless, at 17-11, Virginia went in very easily, Schultz said. I believe we were the 15th at-large team selected, which frankly was a little surprising to me. UVa was seeded seventh in the East, a region in which North Carolina was the top seed. The Cavaliers already had lost two games to the Tar Heels, both when Carolina was ranked No. 1 in the country, and could not have liked their chances in a potential third meeting. However, that would have required three UVa wins, with second-seeded Arkansas looming in the second round. Because of the smaller field, the top four seeds in each region had byes, which meant the Razorbacks had to wait out a first-round game between UVa and 10th-seeded Iona at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., where a crowd of 16,714 was vociferous in its support of the Gaels. On a night when Virginia shot 56.8 percent from the field but made only eight of 20 free throws, the Cavaliers trailed before senior guard Othell Wilson hit a floater from the lane with six seconds left. It was the only field goal by either team in the final 4:37, with Virginia prevailing 58-57. The Cavaliers shot 59.5 percent from the field in the second game but were let down by their ball-handling. After sweating out a last-second shot by the Razorbacks in regulation, UVa won 53-51 in overtime when Rick Carlisle hit a baseline jumper with four seconds remaining. I do think it was an advantage to have played Friday night rather than step in cold against a team like Arkansas, Holland said after the game. All season long, the Cavaliers had answered questions about life after Sampson, but it was not an untalented team. Three of the starters went on to play in the NBA Wilson, Carlisle and freshman center Olden Polynice and one of them, Polynice, actually played two games for the Los Angeles Clippers this year. If this had been last year's team, we would have made that shot and walked off the court in relief, said Wilson, after Carlisle's game-winner against Arkansas. Did you see the celebration? I don't know when I've ever seen the team this excited. If we'd come in here and lost our first game, I think I would have said it was a disappointing year. People can say all they want; all I know is, we're going to the regionals. Virginia's opponent in the East Region semifinals in Atlanta was Syracuse, but the Cavaliers couldn't have been thinking Final Four at that point, not with top-ranked North Carolina (28-2) on the horizon. UNC's opponent was Indiana, which had Bobby Knight on the bench but few of the superstars for which its previous teams had been famous. Sam Perkins and Matt Doherty were seniors on that Carolina team, which also had the national player of the year in junior Michael Jordan. At the time, Jordan was saying he would return for his senior year in 1984-85, but when Indiana snuffed out the Tar Heels 72-68 it turned out to be his final college game. Much was made of the defensive effort of the Hoosiers' unheralded Dan Dakich, who was responsible for defending Jordan, but the real hero was Indiana freshman guard Steve Alford, who had three one-and-ones in the final 3:12 and finished with a season-high 27 points. Little did the Cavaliers know of the opportunity that awaited them when they took on one-point favorite Syracuse in the first game of the night. It was the most lopsided game of the tournament for Virginia, which had a 12-0 run in the first half and led by as much as 44-28 with 10:26 to play. Former walk-on Kenton Edelin, by then a starter, had 10 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Notre Dame, two years ago, had nine high school All-Americans, North Carolina coach Dean Smith said. I'd take Edelin over about eight of them. Edelin made all four of his shots from the field against the Orangemen, making him 10-for-10 for the tournament until that point, including eight dunks. He had little shooting range but was a tremendous leaper at 6-8, he took the center jump and he played in the middle of UVa's full-court zone trap. Edelin saved his most memorable play for the regional final. With the Cavaliers trailing by one point and Holland preparing to tell his team to foul, Edelin stole the ball from Dakich and scored the go-ahead basket with 1:27 left. Then Edelin, who had gone scoreless until that point, made three of four free throws in the final 1:02. The voting was done too early for Edelin to gain a spot on the all-tournament team that included MVP Jimmy Miller and Polynice from Virginia, which caused Holland to observe, I think (Edelin) might have been the MVP. Oddsmakers had called the game even between Virginia and fourth-seeded Indiana, and clearly the Hoosiers did Virginia a favor by knocking off the Tar Heels. I felt that was a really good break for us, Holland said recently, because I don't think we could have beaten North Carolina. Seth Greenberg, who was part-time UVa assistant in 1984, said he still remembers a conversation with Holland's wife, Ann, and the utter amazement she displayed at the notion that the Cavaliers were flying to Seattle for the Final Four. UVa's semifinal opponent, Houston, already had beaten Virginia during the regular season, 74-65, in a game the Cavaliers remembered for an Akeem Olajuwon elbow that floored Polynice. Houston defeated Virginia 49-47 in overtime, but the Cavaliers led 35-32 with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation. UVa had the ball and a chance to take the lead at the end of regulation, and it had the ball and a chance to tie the game at the end of overtime, but Wilson wasn't able to get off a good shot in either situation. We didn't come out here to lose, Carlisle said. But, for a bunch of guys who, in a lot of people's minds, didn't belong in the tournament, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe the most impressive fact about the 1984 team is the number of head coaches who came off that team and staff: Holland, assistant Jim Larranaga (George Mason), assistant Dave Odom (South Carolina), assistant Jeff Jones (American), Greenberg (Virginia Tech), Stokes (head coach at Virginia Tech from 1999-2003), Anthony Solomon (St. Bonaventure) and, of course, Carlisle (Indiana Pacers). I thought our best team was in 1982, but we lost Othell (to an injury) in the tournament, Holland said. People talk about the 1976 team (that won the ACC championship) and the 81 team, but it was the 84 team that proved there was life after Sampson.
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By Doug Doughty