Cavaliers earn ticket to Final Four in Philly

Wildcats, Vols, Cougars fall in Eastern Regional

As a part of The Cavalier Daily’s 130 year anniversary, we are republishing articles from our archives. This article originally ran in The Cavalier Daily March 24, 1981.

A refueled and finely tuned Virginia basketball machine motored its way through the Eastern Regionals of the NCAA Tournament last week, and finds itself preparing to cruise into Philadelphia as a member of the prestigious Final Four. 

The Cavaliers experienced a few knocks in games with Villanova, Tennessee, and Brigham Young — but what can only be termed a supreme team effort overcame all three opponents to reach the finals.

Virginia 74, Brigham Young 60

Brigham Young’s Cougars had two weapons which figured to give the Cavaliers trouble — an outstanding fast-breaking guard in Danny Ainge and a towering frontline that looked like it was shipped in from the Redwood National Forest. 

Both weapons proved effective in the first half as the Cougars took advantage of a tentative Cav attack to capture the halftime lead, 31-28. A last-second jumper by Lee Raker and a 14-point output by Jeff Lamp provided enough momentum to keep Virginia from falling dangeorusly behind.

Ainge’s 11 first-half points allayed Virginia Head Coach Terry Holland’s worst fears and 8-point performances from forwards Fred Roberts and Steve Trumbo revealed a glaring Cavalier weakness. 

But Virginia is accustomed to halftime deficits, and a three-point disadvantage might just as well be a lead the way the Cavs have played in the second half. 

“Things just weren’t going our way in the first half,” Lamp said. “But we weren’t all that concerned — we never thought they had the game.”

Virginia’s 7-foot-4 center Ralph Sampson had a different problem in the opening period. 

“I was a little nervous in the first half,” he said. “My stomach was a little tight. I just had to try and relax.”

As they had in two previous regional games, the Cavs came to life in the second half and proceeded to push the Cougars all the way back to the Great Salt Lake. Holland saw one problem by having guard Othell Wilson stick to Ainge like a chaperone at an eighth-grade dance. Ainge, a major-league baseball player in the summer months, never adjusted to the situation and scored only two points in the final half, both from the free throw line.

“I wasn’t really trying to deny him the ball,” Wilson said. “I was just trying to stay with him. I thought they would go to him more than they did.” 

Wilson did a number offensively as well, scoring all 10 of his points in the final period.

The Redwood problem was solved by Sampson, whose very presence created problems for the Cougars, physically and psychologically. Following the game, Trumbo reflected on the intimidation of Sampson first-hand. 

“When Ralph blocks a couple of shots, you try and say to yourself ‘don’t worry about it,’ but it affects you … his being in there … with those long arms.”

As the game got further away from the Cougars, they sent Virginia to the free throw line, but that didn’t work as the Cavs sank 22 of 27 free throws in the second half. 

Guard Jeff Jones scored eight of his ten points in the final half, and also collected four assists and two steals. Forward Lee Raker, looking like a second for Rocky Balboa, also scored eight points in the second half. “He [Raker] looked like a soldier returning to the MASH unit from the frontlines.”

Lamp finished with 18 points in the final and joined Raker and Sampson on the all-tournament team. As an additional honor the 6-foot-6 Prior Lake, Minn. native was chosen the Most Outstanding Player for the tournament.

Virginia 62, Tennessee 48

The Volunteers of Tennessee were hungry for revenge following the Cav’s upset football win last fall, but it wasn’t to be.

Virginia simply had too much size and talent for Don Devoe’s Volunteers. Still the Cavs held a mere one-point lead at intermission. Forwards Dale Ellis and Gary Carter kept Tennessee close with nine points and seven points, respectively.

Tennessee’s first half success was largely attributable to its being allowed to play a physical game. Both teams were whistled for only six fouls apiece. The second half was a different story as Virginia went to the charity stripe 15 times, connecting on 13 of those shots. Tennessee, meanwhile, did not take a foul shot in the second half and that accounted for Virginia’s 14-point win. 

Lamp paced Virginia with 18 points while Raker and Jones each added 10. The only concern for Virginia was the team’s inability to get the ball to Sampson down low. Thus the Cav center was held to nine points scoring, his first single-digit performance in 42 games. 

Virginia 54, Villanova 50

Villanova Head Coach Rollie Massimino thought he had everyone fooled when he told reporters he would play Sampson straight-up. As it turned out the Wildcat mentor did have his 6-foot-8 center John Panone bump Sampson around quite a bit.

That alone seemed to put Villanova in a good situation as it maintained a lead into the second half.

But injured forward Lee Raker made his first of three heroic appearances and his outside shooting helped Virginia come back for the win.

Transcribed by Vignesh Mulay

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