Remembering Villanova’s 1985 Championship: Jensen Emerges to Return Cats to the Final Four

Birmingham, AL, March 24, 1985

Dwayne McClain, Gary McLain and Ed Pinckney made a pact the day they first arrived as freshmen on Villanova’s campus -- to return Villanova to the NCAA Final Four. They came close as freshmen and sophomores, losing both times in the Elite 8 round, first to North Carolina (1982 Champion) and then to Houston (1983 Finalist). As juniors, they were dispatched in the second round by Illinois. This was their last chance to realize their dream, but to do so they would need to get past the team that knocked them out three years earlier, the #7-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. This time, they did not fail with a 56-44 victory.

"For nearly 20 minutes, it looked like the clock was fast approaching midnight for the last remaining Cinderella team. Then a chain of events occurred over seven seconds that changed the tide of the game, ultimately leading to another shocking upset in a March that had already seen its share of madness." (1)

"North Carolina, which had ground out a 22-14 lead, was holding the ball for the last shot of the opening half when Kenny Smith was called for traveling in the closing seconds. Villanova missed a shot but Dwayne McClain managed to tip in the rebound at the buzzer while also being fouled. He completed the 3-point play, and the Wildcats, who had been completely outplayed, joyfully swooped off the court down by only 5 after having made only 6 of 26 shots." (1)

"At halftime we discussed what had gotten us this far, what we had gone through," Villanova coach Rollie Massimino said. "The only thing we changed was the players’ thinking." That wasn’t quite true. Massimino also made a change to his lineup, benching the 6-foot-1 Dwight Wilbur for 6-5 Harold Jensen, who proceeded to burn the Tar Heels with 10 second-half points as part of a startling turnaround." (1)

"Using a matchup zone that helped contain North Carolina’s imposing big men while also making it hard for point guard Smith to get the ball, Villanova suffocated the Tar Heels and forced many sloppy turnovers that were converted into easy baskets. One such gimme happened with 16:30 to play when Harold Pressley swiped a crosscourt pass and drove for a layup that gave the Wildcats a 27-26 lead they would never surrender. After their brutal first half, the Cats would make 16 of 21 shots in the final 20 minutes." (1)

"A combination of their defense and our offense," North Carolina coach Dean Smith said when asked what made the difference in the game. "We misfired on things we knew we could do. We threw passes I couldn’t believe we threw." Smith grew visibly frustrated during his team’s second-half meltdown, at one point giving a choke sign at an official for not calling a five-second violation against Villanova on an out-of-bounds play." (1)

"Jensen, Pressley and McClain each scored six points during a decisive 22-7 run that gave the Wildcats a commanding 43-33 lead with eight minutes remaining, all but wrapping up perhaps the biggest victory in the program’s history. The emotional scene after the final horn included Massimino sharing tearful embraces with his son R.C. and point guard Gary McLain, Ed Pinckney standing triumphantly on top of the scorer’s table with his arms raised and several players cutting down a net and placing it around the neck of Jake Nevin, their longtime trainer who was confined to a wheelchair with Lou Gehrig’s Disease." (1)

"I got 10 points in the second half," said Harold Jensen afterward. My dad rand down to the floor and they were telling him he wasn’t allowed on the court. He insisted, ‘Let me by. I’m gonna hug my son!" which is just what he did. I got the MVP for the game and he was so proud. I will never forget that moment."

"We’ll wear that glass slipper if you want, but we don’t consider ourselves a Cinderella," Pinckney said. "I don’t have to pinch myself anymore. This is reality." (1)

Twenty years later, Pinckney would write in Tales from the Villanova Hardwood, "When we got back from Birmingham, Villanova was crazed. I never saw anything like it. Every day, the gym was packed full for practices. All kinds of former players were showing up on campus. The atmosphere was unreal. I really felt we couldn’t miss. I think the whole team felt that way."

In the other Elite 8 games, #1 seed Georgetown defeated #2 seed Georgia Tech. Three Hoyas scored in double figures – Ewing (14), Bill Martin (12) and Reggie Williams (12). John Sally led the Yellow Jackets with 15. #2 seed Memphis State defeated #1 seed Oklahoma 63-61 behind 23 points from Keith Lee. The Sooners Wayman Tisdale was held to 11 points in the defeat. #1 seed St. John’s defeated #3 seed North Carolina State 69-60. Chris Mullen led the way for the Johnnies with 25 points. Lorenzo Charles and Spud Webb had 15 and 14 respectively for the Wolfpack.

(1) Excerpts reprinted with permission of John Schaefer, author of The Villanova Miracle and 63 Other Dreams.

VILLANOVA WILDCATS

MIN

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

Ed Pinckney

38

3-6

3-6

-

7

3

3

9

Mark Plansky

7

0-1

0-0

-

1

1

0

0

Harold Pressley

38

7-13

1-2

-

3

1

1

15

Dwight Wilbur

9

0-3

0-0

-

2

1

0

0

Dwayne McClain

36

4-11

3-3

-

5

2

3

11

MIN

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

Chuck Everson

2

0-1

0-0

-

0

0

1

0

Harold Jensen

31

5-7

0-0

-

3

3

1

10

Gary McLain

39

3-5

5-6

-

2

2

2

11

TOTALS

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

22-47

12-17

-

23

13

11

56

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

MIN

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

Buzz Peterson

20

0-3

0-0

-

0

0

1

0

Dave Popson

14

2-3

1-1

-

2

0

0

5

Brad Daugherty

38

7-9

3-6

-

12

0

3

17

Joe Wolf

34

2-6

0-0

-

4

5

3

4

Kenny Smith

40

2-7

0-0

-

3

5

3

4

MIN

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

Ranzino Smith

20

3-10

0-0

-

4

0

2

6

Warren Martin

16

1-2

0-0

-

1

1

2

2

Curtis Hunter

16

3-4

0-0

-

2

0

2

6

Cliff Morris

2

0-0

0-0

-

0

0

0

0

TOTALS

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

20-44

4-7

-

28

11

16

44

MIN

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

Buzz Peterson

20

0-3

0-0

-

0

0

1

0

Dave Popson

14

2-3

1-1

-

2

0

0

5

Brad Daugherty

38

7-9

3-6

-

12

0

3

17

Joe Wolf

34

2-6

0-0

-

4

5

3

4

Kenny Smith

40

2-7

0-0

-

3

5

3

4

MIN

FGM-A

FTM-A

OFF

REB

AST

PF

PTS

Ranzino Smith

20

3-10

0-0

-

4

0

2

6

Warren Martin

16

1-2

0-0

-

1

1

2

2

Curtis Hunter

16

3-4

0-0

-

2

0

2

6

Cliff Morris

2

0-0

0-0

-

0

0

0

0

X
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