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    BACK TO '83: Wolfpack Streaks Into NCAA Title Game
     
     

    April 2, 1983 

     

    BY TIM PEELER

     

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. There was only room for one Cinderella in Monday night’s NCAA Championship game, and the slipper belongs to NC State.

     

    In fact, Georgia never really had the chance to try on what Dereck Whittenburg calls his “Cinderella boots,” the lucky sneakers that have brought Wolfpack head coach Jim Valvano and his team from the verge of being left out of the tournament all together through a series of miraculous comeback victories to reach the final game of the season for the second time in school history.

     

    Valvano and crew now known as “Destiny’s Darlings” and the “Cardiac Pack” will now face top-ranked Houston for the national championship Monday night here at New Mexico’s University Arena, after disposing Georgia 67-60 in Saturday’s first semifinal.

     

    “The dream continues,” Valvano said after the game. “This was magnificent for me.”

     

    Unlike all the Wolfpack’s other stops, there was little doubt about the outcome of this one. Sure, the Southeastern Conference-champion Bulldogs made run at the end of the game, as the Wolfpack got sloppy with the ball. But Valvano’s squad, which had trailed in the second half of all seven of its previous post-season games, led from beginning to end, opening with a 22-foot jumper by senior guard Dereck Whittenburg.

     

    That simple shot dispelled any notion that Whittenburg would be bugged by the flu, which had kept him in bed the two previous days with a 102-degree temperature. He went on to score 20 points in the game, a total matched by fellow senior Thurl Bailey.

     

    The Wolfpack controled the tempo from the outset, settling into a half-court game, mixed with some fast-breaks that caught the Bulldogs off guard.

     

    “Sidney [Lowe] and I decided before the game that we would run any chance we got,” said Whittenburg, who made eight of his 18 shots on the night. “I think that surprised them.”

     

    The most impressive performance of the night, however, was turned in by 6-11 sophomore Cozell McQueen, who posted a career-high 13 rebounds against the undersized Bulldogs. He also scored eight points, while playing more than he has throughout the post-season, when the Wolfpack has used a three-guard lineup.

     

    “I thought I would play a lot because all they do is run,” McQueen said. “My game is playing defense and rebounding, and if there isn’t a fast pace, there’s not much happening and the third guard comes in.”

     

    The Bulldogs could not replicate their shooting success from last weekend’s trip to Syracuse, N.Y., where they eliminated defending national champion North Carolina by hitting more than half of its outside shots. Saturday, Hugh Durham’s team made only 10 of 36 shots in the first half, against a 2-3 zone defense. The Wolfpack built as much as a 13-point lead with the inside-outside scoring of Whittenburg and Bailey, taking a 33-22 advantage at the half.

     

    That lead stretched to 18 points, as Georgia went nearly six minutes without scoring. When Bailey hit six-foot scoop shot from a Sidney Lowe pass with 5:56 remaining, the Wolfpack led by 18 points.

     

    “Hey, we’re an agricultural school,” Valvano said. “If we can’t milk a lead like that, then we shouldn’t be here.”

     

    The pass was one of Lowe’s 11 assists on the night, as he broke the North Carolina All-America Phil Ford’s ACC record for career assists. Lowe now has 764 assists in his four years with the Wolfpack, with one more game to go.

     

    But in the final five minutes, Georgia forced the Wolfpack to make 10 turnovers, cutting the margin down to five points with 18 seconds to play on Vern Fleming’s follow layup of his own miss.

     

    “At the beginning of the game, we didn’t shoot the ball very well,” Durham said. “That was a big factor in the game. But so was their board strength. As expected, the guard play was important. But basically, it was our inability to put the ball in the hole.”

     

    Fleming made only seven of his 17 shots, and Gerald Crosby mad just five of his 15 shots. Six of their 13 baskets came in the final five minutes, during Georgia’s comeback attempt.

     

    “I don’t really think we were nervous,” Fleming said. “We were ready to play the game. We got the shots we wanted. They just weren’t falling for us.”

     

    Though Valvano worried about his team’s near collapse, the Wolfpack was in control throughout the contest.  Bailey and sophomore Terry Gannon made five free throws in the final minute, and Bailey ended the scoring with a six-foot jumper with five seconds to play.

     

    “We weren’t tight,” Lowe said. “We were loose and we were shooting. We felt good. I wasn’t concerned that we were going to lose. I was just concerned that we would lose our composure. If we had lost the game and lost our composure, that would have been hard to deal with.”

     

    Bailey, who added 10 rebounds to go with his 20 points, echoed those thoughts.

     

    “We never really thought the game was in danger of getting away from us,” Bailey said. “We knew we just had to make our free throws and we would win. Georgia was scrappy, but we used our height advantage effectively against them.”

     

    The Wolfpack won’t have that advantage Monday night when it faces the top-ranked Cougars, which enter the championship game on a 26-game winning streak. Houston, coached by Final Four veteran Guy Lewis, put on a high-flying show in its 94-81 victory over Louisville in the second semifinal game.

     

    Led by 7-foot junior Akeem Olajuwon, the Cougars had 13 dunks in the game to Louisville’s six. They turned a two-point game into a blow-out by outscoring the Cardinals 21-1 late in the second half.

     

    “We didn’t have enough dunks in the game,” Lewis said after the game. “I wish we could have had some more.”

     

    Lewis said he was joking, but Valvano isn’t so sure.

     

    “Nobody in the country has more talent,” said the Wolfpack coach.

     

    You may contact Tim Peeler at tim_peeler@ncsu.edu.


     

     

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