Friday, December 04, 2009

#3 Wildcats / Maryland Terrapins Series History - Two Games in the Magical 1985 National Championship Season - and the First-Ever Game at the Pavilion

To the Wildcat faithful-

As the #3 Wildcats aim to extend their 7-0 record, against the University of Maryland Terrapins, on Sunday night, I thought that it might be interesting, to look at the extremely short series history.  The schools meet for the first time in a generation on Sunday.

(Above- Testudo, the formal name of the Maryland Terrapin)

Although the rivalry is only three games long, two of them rank prominently in the annals of Villanova's storied history.    Two games are inextricably intertwined with the most revered Villanova season - 1984-1985 - which culminated in the national championship, on April 1 of that year.

And the third meeting was... Villanova's first-ever game at the Pavilion, which took place on February 1, 1986, less than a year after the Wildcats won it all, in Lexington, Kentucky, stunning Georgetown in the national title game.

Villanova / Maryland Series History

Despite the fact that the schools are geographically close - the University of Maryland is located in College Park, within the DC media market - they have met only three times.  And only two of those games were planned, in fact.

It's only 131 miles or so, between the two schools, all of it highway on I-95 and I-476, but they didn't meet at all, until 1985.  Ironically, Villanova spent its first 64 seasons of competition without playing Maryland-  but then played the Terrapins twice - once in the regular season, as well as the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, in 1985.

January 27, 1985 - Cole Field House, College Park, MD - Maryland 77, Villanova 74

In the January 28, 1985, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, writer Jayson Stark - now far better known for his outstanding baseball coverage on ESPN and - concluded his game story, with an eerily prescient paragraph:
Strangely, these two teams had not crossed paths before. And unless the tourney trail brings them back together, there are no immediate plans for them to meet again. So you will have to read what you want into what transpired yesterday at Cole Field House.

Maybe 14,500 people filed out singing hosannas for the grand old ACC. But [Ed}Pinckney knew differently. And if there's any justice, he'll get another shot at this debate come the middle of March.

On January 27, in front of a national television audience - and a spirited,14,500-strong throng at Maryland's beloved Cole Field House - the Terrapins - coached by Lefty Driesell - topped the Wildcats narrowly, 77-74.  The Terrapins improved to 16-5.  The Wildcats, ranked #14 nationally, fell to 13-4.

But Ed Pinckney nearly- singlehandedly - led the Wildcats to glory - prefiguring his later performances in March.  Pinckney scored a career-high 29 points, with 17 of them coming in the final eight minutes, powering a valiant Villanova comeback that fell just short.  The Wildcats, guided by Rollie Massimino, trailed by a dozen points with 9:33 left in the second half- a much larger deficit than today, since there was no three-point line and no shot clock.

Nevertheless, Pinckney almost got them all the way back.  He scored to make it 58-56 with 4:57 to play, and Villanova still trailed only 64-60, with 3:07 to go.  But Pinckney's heroics weren't enough - in addition to the career-high in points, he also dominated the paint, hauling in 16 rebounds.

Perhaps even more amazingly, Pinckney did all of this- despite a bad ankle, a cold, and foul trouble, which limited him to just ten minutes in the first half.  The foul trouble rendered it impossible for him to contain the Terrapins' superstar, junior Len Bias, who exploded for 30 points, a career-high.

March 22, 1985 - Sweet 16, NCAA Tournament, Birmingham, Alabama - Villanova 46, Maryland 43

Rollie Massimino did not want this game played in the 70s, as the January meeting had been.  And so he utilized his vaunted stallball, and the game was played in the 40s.  And there was a different outcome.  The eighth-seeded Wildcats advanced to meet second-seeded North Carolina in the Elite Eight.  Villanova ended the season of #3 seed Maryland, 46-43.

How did they do it?  Massimino clamped down on Bias.  Bias - now the ACC Player of the Year - had posted a career-high 30 points back in January, and he carried a 52-game streak of scoring in double figures, into the contest with Villanova.  The streak didn't make it to 53.

Using the game film of Georgetown / Maryland as his guide, Massimino devised a game plan for Pinckney to shut down Bias, with Pinckney playing the role of Patrick Ewing.  And it worked perfectly.  Bias managed just eight points, on 4/13 shooting from the floor.  In frustration, he committed his third and fourth fouls against Wildcat junior Harold Pressley, in quick succession, further evidence of the effectiveness of the defense.

Villanova trailed 20-19 at halftime, but opened the second half on a 11-0 run to take a 30-20 lead, which they never relinquished - seven of the 10 points were from Pinckney.  The Wildcats didn't shoot any better than Bias - as a team, they were 17/46 from the floor - but it was enough to win.  Pinckney added 16 points of his own, on 5/7 shooting, to his suffocating defensive work.  The only Terrapin to have a fine day was Adrian Branch, who shot 9/19 from the floor to finish with a game-high 21 points - nearly half of Maryland's entire total of 43.  (The other Terrapins combined to shoot 10/27 from the floor.)

Other standouts for Villanova were senior Dwayne McClain (a dozen points) and Pressley (seven points, 10 rebounds).  Another major factor was rebounding; in keeping with Rollie's style, Maryland pulled down only a single offensive rebound in the entire game, being outrebounded 40-29.  (Villanova had only six more points than rebounds!)

And the rest is history. The Wildcats went on to sweep their next three opponents - North Carolina, Memphis State, and Georgetown, capturing its first national championship.

February 1, 1986 - The Pavilion - Villanova 64, Maryland 62

The following season saw the return game of the home-and-home series, as the Terrapins visited the Pavilion in its inaugural campaign.

The Wildcats had lost enormous experience in Pinckney, McClain, and Gary McLain, but brought a 14-9 record into the game; Maryland, which still had Bias, now a senior- took a 10-9 mark to the Pavilion.  Bias scored 25 points, with 17 of them coming in the first half.  Villanova was able to contain him, though, in the second half, even without the departed Pinckney.  Bias took only three shots in the final 15 minutes.

It was a thriller for those 6,400 Villanovans fortunate enough to be there.  The first half witnessed ten lead changes and four ties.  The Wildcats took a 37-29 lead into the locker room, the result of a 8-0 run, sparked by a technical foul on Driesell. 

In the second half, led by Bias, Maryland rallied to take a 48-44 advantage.  Villanova tied it, and then the teams kept trading baskets.  The game was tied at every two-point increment from 48 to 62.  Maryland's Keith Gatlin gave the Terps their final lead, 62-60, on a long jumper with 1:29 to play.  The Wildcats' freshman (and eventual star) Doug West tied it on a layup, assisted by Mark Plansky, to retie it at 62 with 1:13 left.

After Maryland drained nearly all the time off the then-45 second shot clock, Gatlin missed and Plansky grabbed the rebound, and Villanova called timeout with 28 seconds left, to hold for the last shot.  The plan was for Kenny Wilson to get it to Pressley, and it worked - Pressley had a uncontested layup for the winning basket.  Maryland pushed the ball up without calling timeout, but Wilson forced a turnover, ending the game.

As Stark put it, in his lead in the Inquirer story:
It is going to be their home from now into the 21st century. But as many times as the Villanova Wildcats may trot out onto the hardwood floor of the John E. duPont Pavilion in the future, they are going to have a hard time topping the show they staged yesterday to open the joint.

They played a game yesterday that any team and any arena in America would have been proud to call its own.

The rafters shook. The tempers raged. And as each minute ticked by, the drama welled larger and larger in the jittery stomachs of all 6,400 folks in the building.

And, finally, they ground on down to the spectacular finish you could see coming all day. They finished it with Harold Pressley scoring inside with 9 seconds to play, and then with freshman guard Kenny Wilson poking the ball away from Maryland's John Johnson with 2 seconds left.

They finished it with Villanova on top, 64-62. And when it was over, you had to hand it to old Roland V. Massimino, the great coach and theatrical- production wiz. When this guy opens a building, he sure doesn't mess around.

And so, in front of 6,400 fans, Villanova hung on for a nailbiting 64-62 victory, one of many Pavilion victories to come over the next three-plus decades.  It was the first of Villanova's now-200+ victories, in the on-campus venue.

More on the 2009 game with Maryland to come - and check out the other fine Villanova blogs on the sidebar.

Go Wildcats!


Anonymous said...

Very interesting history, brief though it is. I can recall the tourney game almost as though it were yesterday.

I don't know if you ever read a book entitled "Lefty, Lennie and the Chancellor," but it's about how the Driesell era came to an end at Maryland, after Len Bias's shocking death from a cocaine overdose on campus, the night he'd been picked #1 in the NBA draft. Chancellor Slaughter pushed Lefty out, after a decent amount of time had passed.

The Maryland program really was a program out of control. Winning was everything to Lefty; he had nothing but contempt for academics or reporters who questioned his priorities. And, who knows, maybe he was right in some ways. Big time college sports is a pretty compromised enterprise and he may not have felt any need to tolerate hypocrisy about what everyone understood to be the point, winning games, putting the university's name in the paper, and making money.

The book recounts a very telling incident a few years before Bias's death. I recall reading about it also in newspapers at the time. A coed complained that one of the b'ball players had raped her. Lefty's response was not to try to get to the bottom of this but to call the girl directly (unheard of today) to threaten that he'd make her a social pariah on campus if she didn't change her story. Somehow that was all tamped down and ascribed to a "misunderstanding" and Lefty went on his merry way.

Did that sort of outlook contribute to the Bias tragedy? Who's to say? But to put it as gently as possible, it was certainly not the case that Driesell's athletes were ever held to a high set of behavioral standards or ethical norms.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the comment. I actually hadn't previously heard of the book title you mentioned. The episodes you describe really are appalling and disgraceful, and Driesell's regime certainly needed to be removed...

One reason I am impressed with Gary Williams is that he had to clean up not only the Driesell mess, but that of Bob Wade, who was his immediate predecessor...

Go Wildcats!

Anonymous said...

The book was well researched and a very good read. I should know who wrote it, but I can't recall. Well worth getting your hands on. I seem to recall that the Wade era at Maryland wound up with them on probation (recruiting violations, most of them relatively minor that I recall). Wade, a Baltimore high school coach in way over his head.

I agree with you on Williams. A good and decent man. Won a national championship, but many fans now consider him to be an idiot.

A Washington Post series last year revealed that he won't play the "street agent" game. Deals with high school coaches and parents, considering the street agents and hangers on to be little more than pimps. Good for him, but it costs him in recruits.

Watching him in the stress of games, I worry about his health. Gives new meaning to the word "intensity."