March 24, 2005
The University of Notre Dame official athletics site, www.und.com , concludes its tribute today to the school’s celebration of 100 Seasons of Basketball. Spanning the entirety of the college basketball season, www.und.com has updated this section of the site every weekday 100 times in an effort to highlight Notre Dame’s 100th Basketball Season in 2004-05.
Also available this season is the book 100 Seasons of Basketball, produced by the University of Notre Dame Sports Information Office and Notre Dame Sports Properties. The book is available exclusively through the Notre Dame Bookstore (call 800-647-4641 or to go www.ndcatalog.com).
#99 (Friday, March 25, 2005)
1978 Final Four
By Lou Somogyi
How talented was Notre Dame’s 1977-78 NCAA Final Four unit?
The lineup included future 14-year NBA veteran Bill Laimbeer, 13-year pro Orlando Woolridge, 1980 U.S. Olympian Bill Hanzlik, who played 11 years in the NBA, and Tracy Jackson, a three-year NBA performer.
That quartet comprised Notre Dame’s second team.
The starters featured five players who all scored more than 1,000 points during their Irish careers (as did Woolridge and Jackson): forwards Dave Batton and Kelly Tripucka, center Bruce Flowers and guards Rich Branning and Donald “Duck” Williams.
Among the 13 scholarship players, 10 were drafted (center Gil Salinas was the 10th) and eight played in the NBA.
Never was Digger Phelps’ recruiting juggernaut more productive than from 1973-77, when Notre Dame routinely signed an average of two high school All-Americans per year. It began in 1973 with Adrian Dantley, Bill Paterno and Toby Knight, and the 1978 Final Four edition was a product of four more seasons (1974-77) of recruiting excellence.
High school All-Americans Batton and Williams arrived in 1974; Flowers and Laimbeer followed in ’75; Branning began his Irish career in 1976; while Tripucka, Jackson and Salinas all debuted in 1977.
Hanzlik (1976) and Woolridge (1977) were not prep All-Americans, but Phelps recognized their potential. The 6-7 Hanzlik was quick and possessed a vast wingspan along the perimeter, while the 6-9 Woolridge was blessed with superior leaping ability and bloodlines (Willis Reed was his cousin).
From 1974-77, the Irish were a glittering 85-21 (.802) during the regular season and had three AP top 10 finishes, but their albatross was the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Dating back to Austin Carr’s junior and senior seasons in 1970 and 1971, Notre Dame had been vanquished in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on six straight occasions.
The jinx was projected to halt in 1977-78 as the Irish were ranked No. 4 in the preseason for three reasons:
1) Four double-figure scorers returned from the 1976-77 top 10 unit: Williams (18.1), Batton (12.2), Flowers (11.3) and Branning (10.7).
2) Laimbeer was re-admitted to school after spending the previous season in academic exile.
3) Incoming freshmen Tripucka, Jackson and Woolridge formed the most talented trio Phelps signed in one class (Salinas and Stan Wilcox rounded out the five-man harvest).
It posed somewhat of a dilemma for Phelps.
“It is difficult to assemble that many high school All-Americans and keep everyone happy,” said Branning at the team’s 20th anniversary reunion in February of 1998. “When you try to keep everyone happy, then everyone seems to be unhappy. The older guys want 35 minutes, the younger guys want 20 minutes…”
Ultimately, the greater good superseded individual goals.
“A lot of these guys ended up in the pros and could have [showcased] their own individual talents,” Batton said. “But we blended as a team, and that’s what made it special.”
Balance was the operative word in 1977-78. According to Batton, this included tempering Phelps’ often effective but sometimes daunting motivational skills. “Right before the season I went to Digger and said, `You made me the captain [along with fellow senior Williams] and the one thing I want to do differently from the three years before this is if you’ve got a problem with anyone, instead of berating them, yelling or taking them off to the side…why don’t you come to me and I’ll handle it. And if the team has a problem, I’ll come to you.’
“I think that’s what took Digger away from having to be as hard-nosed and tough on each player as he normally would have been. I think that made a difference that year.”
Another testament to the team’s balance was Batton’s 14.0 scoring average. It was the lowest output by a leading scorer at Notre Dame from 1951 to 1995. Williams (13.3) and Flowers (6.9) saw their scoring figures dip by five points apiece from the previous year, but the addition of rookie phenom Tripucka (11.7) and Laimbeer (8.1) helped compensate. Branning (11.0) was steady at point guard while Jackson, Hanzlik, Woolridge and Wilcox supplied quality depth.
Highlights of the regular season included a sweep of nationally ranked UCLA and rallying from 17 points down to defeat No. 1 Marquette, the defending national champion. In that game, Phelps inserted the sophomore Hanzlik to handle All-American guard Butch Lee, and Hanzlik’s defensive prowess helped propel the rally.
Still, as Notre Dame attempted to build chemistry with its lineup, it sputtered into the NCAA Tournament with a 4-3 mark in its final seven games, including upset losses at unranked South Carolina (65-60) and Dayton (66-59) and an overtime defeat at home to DePaul (69-68).
“We ebbed and flowed,” said Branning of the 20-6 regular season. “We didn’t dominate, but we worked through those issues to find the right mix. It was a unique balance. Fortunately, we peaked at the right time.”
Did they ever! In the opening round of the 32-team NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame played its best game of the season during a 100-77 rout of Southwest Conference champ Houston. Five players scored in double figures, led by Laimbeer’s career-high 20 points and nine rebounds in just 21 minutes.
The second-round jinx was snapped on St. Patrick’s Day with a convincing 69-56 conquest of Utah. Tripucka converted eight of 11 from the field while tallying a game-high 20 points. For the first time in 20 years, Notre Dame advanced to a regional final.
In the rematch against No. 3 DePaul (27-3), the Irish depth overwhelmed 65-year-old Ray Meyer’s sentimental favorites. Regional MVP Tripucka scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while Branning played a flawless floor game with 15 points and seven assists.
“Our top five players can beat Notre Dame’s top five players. But our top 10 players against their top 10–no way,” Meyer remarked.
The championship dreams ended with a 90-86 loss to Duke in the Final Four, but a new milestone had been achieved with the school’s first advancement to the national finals.
The 1977-78 squad had the second worst mark during Notre Dame’s school-record eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1974-81 under Phelps, but nevertheless was the centerpiece of a halcyon era in which the Irish were 182-52 (.778), highlighted by a 117-10 (.921) mark at the ACC.
Also – on this date in Notre Dame Basketball history –
March 25, 1973 – An overtime basket at the buzzer by Virginia Tech denies Notre Dame a championship in the NIT final. The Irish advance to the title game by upsetting USC, Louisville and North Carolina in the 16-team field. John Shumate is named the tournament MVP by converting a school-record 20 consecutive field goals against the Cardinals and Tar Heels.
March 25, 1978 –Down 80-66 with less than four minutes remaining, Notre Dame stages a valiant rally to slice its deficit to 88-86 before losing to Duke in the NCAA Final Four at St. Louis. The Irish also lose the third-place game to Arkansas (71-69) to finish 23-8.
#100 (Friday, March 26, 2005)
Looking back at 100 Years in 100 Days…
by Alan Wasielewski
When the Notre Dame Sports Information Department was working on its plans to celebrate the 100th season of Notre Dame Basketball, we were challenged to come up with a way to honor the event on www.und.com.
What eventually developed out of several different plans was 100 Years in 100 Days, a daily update (weekdays only) which would highlight a different fact, event or player in Irish basketball history.
The updates began on Monday, Nov. 5, 2004 – close to five months ago. I am proud to say that I put together each and every update and it was challenging at times to find time each day in an already challenging sports information schedule. A vast majority of the information came from 100 Seasons of Basketball, put together by Notre Dame Basketball Sports Information Director Bernie Cafarelli. It is a great book and can be bought at the Notre Dame Bookstore or by calling 800-647-4641.
Much credit needs to go to the writers in 100 Seasons of Basketball, Tim Bourret, Mike Coffey, Pete LaFleur, Tim Prister, Pete Sampson, Denise Skwarcan, Lou Somogyi, Andrew Soukup and Cory Walton.
I also want to thank Kathleen Lopez and the whole crew at College Sports Online for developing the page and graphics and also posting a few updates when I was out of town.
As a native of South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame sports have always been a major part of my life. I have the privilege of experiencing two of the best eras in Notre Dame’s two major sports – Notre Dame basketball in the late-70’s and early-80’s and Notre Dame football in the late-80’s and early-90’s. A project like 100 Years in 100 Days was challenging, but also rewarding. Notre Dame basketball has a rich history that should to be highlighted and understood. Hopefully, this project has helped in that endeavor.
For the final update of 100 Years in 100 Days, I offer my personal favorite memories of Notre Dame basketball…
- Jack Lloyd, the Joyce Center announcer, going through the starting lineup of Ken Barlow, Donald Royal, Tim Kempton, Scott Hicks and David Rivers during the 1984-85 season. By the time he reached Rivers – you could no longer hear the announcement because the crowd was cheering so loud.
- Digger Phelps emerging from the locker room and not allowing the team to take the court until the crowd was so loud, you could not hear the band play when the team finally hit the court.
- David Rivers’ fearless, full-court, end-to-end drives to the basket.
- Walking out of the Joyce Center completely drained, having cheered to the point of physical exhaustion.
- The student who portrayed `The Surfer’ during the 80’s in the Joyce Center. He would suddenly appear in the aisles and dance when the band played “Wipeout.”
- The traditional volley of toilet paper that hit the Joyce Center floor on the first Notre Dame basket of every home game. Eventually the officials started to issue technical fouls for delay of game and another tradition was unceremoniously ended.
- John Paxson’s jump shot, Tom Sluby’s senior season (18.7 points per game), Elmer Bennett’s three pointer at Syracuse, Gary Voce vs. #1 North Carolina, Joe Howard going from football to basketball, Pat Garrity toiling through games playing practically one on five, Pete Miller going from walk-on to team captain, Troy Murphy scoring at will inside the paint, Matt Carroll’s jump shot, Chris Thomas’ fearless freshman season and being on the court when the Irish advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2002-03.
Here’s to a great 100 years of basketball and even greater memories in the near future…
Alan Wasielewski is an Assistant Sports Information Director at Notre Dame. He works with the men’s soccer, softball and football team in addition to maintaining the official athletics website, www.und.com.