On the first day of April in 1985, it wasn’t April Fools; the 8th seeded Villanova Wildcats upset the top-ranked Georgetown Hoyas to win the 1985 National Championship.
Head Coach Rollie Massimino’s ‘Nova squad finished the regular season with a 19-10 record which included five losses to the nation’s #1 or #2 ranked team; the balance of their losses were teams who also made the Field of 64. Villanova defeated Pitt in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Tournament but were knocked out by 2nd seed St. John’s in the semifinals.
The NCAA Tournament saw a tough road for the ‘Cats in the Southeast Region. ‘Nova opened up on the road with a 2-point win against the 9-seed University of Dayton ... in Dayton. Two days later, the Wildcats knocked off the Region’s top seed, Michigan Wolverines, by four to make it to the second weekend.
As Villanova traveled to Birmingham, AL for the Regional Semifinals, the ‘Cats defeated 5th seed Maryland by three and then the Southeast’s #2 seed North Carolina by six to reach the Final Four.
Lexington, KY was the host of the National Semifinals as the country saw matchups between the Wildcats and Memphis State in one game and Georgetown against St. John’s in the second.
Villanova saw their largest win of the Tournament in the national semifinal with a 52-45 victory over the Tigers who were the 2-seed from the Midwest Region. The victory set up the all BIG EAST National Championship game between the Wildcats and the Hoyas; their third matchup of the season.
In the National Championship, Villanova played what many consider “The Perfect Game” as the Wildcats shot 78.6% (22 of 29) from the field in the 66-64 victory over the reigning National Champion Hoyas, including 90% in the second half.
Massimino cinderella team relied on a tight-knit group of players. Three starters, Dwayne McClain, Harold Pressley, and Gary McLain played all 40 minutes in the Championship. Ed Pinkney added 37 minutes, 16 points, and 6 rebounds to being named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Harold Jensen who added 34 minutes and 14 points was named to the All-Tournament alongside McClain and McLain.
Following their Villanova playing days, six players from the team were selected in subsequent NBA Drafts. Pinkney, McClain, and McLain were all selected in 1985. Pressley and Everson in 1986, and Jensen in 1987.
Despite long-tenured NBA playing and coaching careers, the main story that Villanova critics quickly recall is the admission by Gary McLain that he played the National Semifinal game against Memphis high on cocaine. McLain documented his cocaine addiction two years late in a 10,000 word Sports Illustrated article, ‘A Bad Trip’. McLain has been clean since 2005 and has since become a Certified Addiction Professional spending his time traveling and talking to youngsters about addiction through his story.
The 1985 squad remains tight to this day. Numerous members of the Cinderella squad were at Nova’s trip to the Final Four in 2009, at the 2016 National Championship in Houston, and in San Antonio for Villanova’s third National Championship in 2018.
In between those last two national championships, Roland Vincent Massimino passed away at the age of 82 in the summer of 2017, when many of the Villanova Family (& all college basketball in general) came to celebrate his life.
The Villanova Program’s mantra of “We play for those who came before us” is passed down from class to class. It is not uncommon to see members of that ‘85 squad or current NBA’ers join the current ‘Cats on campus.
The Family atmosphere that Massimino created in the 1980s is the bedrock of Jay Wright’s team in the 2020s.