Eric Neel says ...
Ducky Drake is taping Bill Walton's ankles in the locker room, just the way the Big Redhead likes them. Walton's got his eyes closed, and he's got Dylan on the headphones: "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." He's not the cheerful hoop ambassador now. He's no shy, nervous kid, either. He's gone game-face, he's doing Arnold in "Terminator." He knows this is his night. This is the night he stirs up echoes of the legendary 21-for-22 game against Memphis State. This is the night he buries the demons that haunt him from coming up short in '74.
"And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it, reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it," he sings. Ducky looks at him impassively, confused, and a little bit afraid. "Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin', but I'll know my song well before I start singin'," he calls out, striding through the locker room, banging drums on the walls, anxious to get the party started. "And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall!"
On defense, the Tar Heels' plan is to sag on Walton and Alcindor. On offense, well, Jordan is Jordan, right from the jump. UCLA has no way to defend him. He penetrates the zone, he posts up Baron and Goodrich, he blows by Reggie like he was Samantha and Miller was Darrin, caught in one of those nose-twitch time warps. It's working. Reggie and Goodrich, looking to extend the Carolina zone, swing and miss on a few 3s, and boom, MJ and Phil Ford are blazing the other way with the long rebounds. Ten minutes into the first half The G.O.A.T. has 18 points and Phil's got eight assists. It's a pre-emptive attack; they're not giving the Bruin bigs a chance to set the tone. Carolina leads at the half, 50-42. MJ has 24 and Bobby Mac, floating to wings on MJ hangs and drives, has 12 on 6-for-6 shooting.
But UCLA doesn't spook easy. Or ever. Wooden doesn't say much at halftime. Never does. But Big Bill wants the floor. "I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways, I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests," he says, waving his headband, shaking the sweat from his hair. "And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall!" The fellas have no idea what he's talking about, but they love the look in his eye. As they sprint for the floor Bill leans over and tells Reggie, "Keep shooting!" The man who put the spike in Spike just smiles: "You don't have to tell me that!"
And it's the two of them who turn the tide. First Miller, with 3-pointers on three straight possessions, the last of them up and over a sprinting Jordan who figures he just might have to do everything tonight. And now, with Reggie pulling Dean's boys out of their comfort, er, zone, Bill's moment arrives. Worthy and McAdoo are obsessed with Alcindor -- "We can't let him beat us with the sky hook," Smith urged before the game. "We have to front and deny!" -- so there are gaps. Walton's finding space in the middle of the key when Alcindor is wide down the baseline. He's got room at the free-throw line when Lew's on the blocks. And he's automatic. Reggie fakes a shot and dumps it off to Red. Bing. Baron slips by a distracted, and tiring, Jordan and shovels it to him. Bang. Marques Johnson floats reverse baseline and comes back under with a hand-delivered gift. Boom. Every bucket Jordan hits takes Boston Garden-like effort, but Walton's are coming easy. Or so he makes it seem. Maybe you forget how good he is, how deep the toolbox goes. There are jump hooks and putbacks. There are banks and dunks. There are head fakes and ball-on-the-floor drives that put McAdoo's head on a swivel. He doesn't miss a shot in the second half -- 16-for-16 and eight free throws. And, oh by the way, he blocks six shots, to boot. Jordan is magnificent, but he can't match the big man's efficiency, or, on this one night, his drive.
Final score: UCLA 103, North Carolina 95
Scoop Jackson says ...
It all came down to this. Right where the argument started. No Long Island Ice Teas this time. This right here is serious business. I call my man, the co-originator of this fantasy, Sir Andre Curry. Had to make it official. Dre's only words: "This is what started the argument, this is what's going to end the argument. Tar Heels, baby. For life!!!" For life opens up with the Tar Heels trailing 10-4 early. With the height difference evident on the inside, and no Brad Daugherty on the roster, the Bruins feed Jabbar like he's been on a Sally Struthers commercial. Sky hook after sky hook. Jordan understands what the greatest player alive was like before he arrived.
With no answer for stopping Cap, Dean Smith takes Phil Ford, who throughout this tournament ran the four corners like a hustler from Chi, and Billy Cunningham out, and replaces them with the two best bench players on all 32 teams. "Charlie, pretend you're at the Rucker. Walter, pretend you're at St. Aug's gym back home." From there, the Heels reel off a 15-2 run that has UCLA shaking like a deep mob. The prodigy (Jordan) causes havoc by scoring 15 in the first half, to go along with the combined 23 Scott and Davis provide off the bench.
Halftime score: UNC 59, UCLA 54.
Same script, different half. The Bruins, thanks to Baron Davis and Gail Goodrich, retake the lead and keep them hells on their heels for the first 8 minutes. There is a theory in college basketball that games are won in the first 4 minutes of the second half. Al McGuire says to Billy Packer during the contest, "The Bruins have taken control of this game by winning the most important part of the game."
During a timeout with 4:45 left, down by 5, Michael Jordan lets everyone on his squad have it. His profanity-laced tirade to his teammates makes the song from the University of Miami football team sound like a Will Smith record. Can't print what he says here, but trust me: it changes the game. With 3:36 left, a Bill Walton shot off the glass ties the score at 80. The next trip down, Jordan steals the ball and flushes one with force for Carolina's first lead of the second half. Wooden calls a timeout. He launches into his own tirade. This one worse than Jordan's. Reggie grabs the back of Cap's neck. "I got you," he tells the big fella. Kareem just shakes his head.
Both teams trade buckets. Leads change, scores become untied. At the 0:59 mark, it's Miller who puts a dagger in the Tar Heels' heart. A deep 3 over Jordan, putting UCLA up 2. Phil Ford feeds McAdoo at the top of the key, Mac drops one over Walton's outstretched arm. Game locked. BD shakes free of Ford, the lane is open. As he drives Jordan and Worthy (who's battle with Marques Johnson will be talked about in historic terms afterwards) collapse on him. He sees Reggie open in the corner, but he instead attempts a lob to Jabbar. As soon as the ball leaves his hand, Jordan flicks the pass in the other direction, grabs it, calls timeout. He says nothing during the timeout, neither does coach Smith. Everyone knows. Even UCLA.
Final score: North Carolina 105, UCLA 103