The North Carolina Tar Heels journeyed to the NCAA finals for the 6th time in 20 years last night, searching, just striving, for their own share of heaven--Blue Heaven they call it down in Chapel Hill. But a stingy Indiana defense combined with an almost at-will penetration of the Tar Heels' halfcourt press laid waste to their heaven as the Hoosier's denied the Tar Heels 63-50 and claimed the national collegiate basketball title in Philadelphia last night.
The victory gives the Hoosiers their second championship under coach Bobby Knight--they won in 1976--and their fourth in the school's history. They started off the season with a dismal 7-5 performance but came into their own in December and ended up winning the Big Ten Conference. The unusually successful Knight capped the Most Valuable Player award for the game.
For a while in the first half it looked as if the Carolina search might be over. Led by 6 ft. 6 in. Olympian Al Wood--who finished with 18 points--they kept Indiana from scoring in the first five minutes of the game and jumped out to an 8-2 lead. But the calm Hoosier squad then ran off a string of six unanswered points and tied the game up at 8-8 with about ten minutes to go in the first half. The tide switched again, however, as Wood made an inside power move and laid it up-and-in to claim his 2000th collegiate point, and the Tar Hells who socred eight points to Indiana's none in the next two minutes to go up 16-8. Knight said after the game that this was its crucial point, and during a time-out he obviously communicated that to his squad. The Hoosiers mounted a strong comeback and succedeed in tying the socre at 20-20 with five minutes remaining in the half.
The lead seesawed back and forth until Hoosier guard Randy Wittman (16 points) hit for two at the buzzer to give Indiana a 27-26 halftime lead.
Go For It
Coming back for the second half the Hoosiers, sparked by the brilliant performance of 6 ft. 1 in. All-American guard Isiah Thomas, went into their act. In the semi-final against a strong Louisiana State team the Hoosier had popped in 14 straight second half points before the Tigers got on the scoreboard. They nearly repeated that show last night outscoring Carolina 12-4 in the first ten minutes.
Thomas had a pair of steals matched by a pair of layups to inspire the Indiana surge. And when he brought the ball down under control he often penetrated wisely by freeing himself for the open shot or dropping off the easy pass to the open man down kow. It was readily apparent last night why many consider him to be the finest guard in the country. He finished with 21 points to capture scoring honors.