For the last several years Georgetown University's basketball team has laid claim to being the Beast of the East. With a convincing 84-75 victory over Houston in the NCAA championship game, the gray-clad Hoyas from Washington, D.C. , became a certifiable national monster.
Their victory contained some of the same feeling of inevitability as UCLA's did during the John Wooden years. Georgetown, 34-3 on the season, was just too powerful, talented, and deep to be denied.
Proof of that came in Seattle with victories over Kentucky and Houston, two teams with the manpower to match up well against Hoya sequoia Patrick Ewing.
With Twin Towers Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, Kentucky made matters interesting for a while, but the snarling Georgetown defense came to life in a second half display that spelled the embarrassing demise of the Wildcats. Obviously flustered, the losers shot an abysmal 3-for-33 in the 53-40 defeat.
Houston, with seven-foot supercenter Akeem Olajuwon, was up next. The Cougars, out to erase the memories of last year's heartbreaking loss to North Carolina State in the final, started off by hitting their first seven shots to take a 14-6 lead. But Coach John Thompson's well-drilled Hoyas, using relentless pressure and constant substitutions, gradually gained control.
By halftime, Georgetown owned a 10-point cushion, which seemed all the more insurmountable when Olajuwon picked up his fourth personal foul shortly after the intermisssion and was recalled to the bench. To their credit, the Cougars hung tough even without Akeem, exhibiting the kind of grit and emotion that Georgetown seems to have patented.
Guard Alvin Franklin, who scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, momentarily converted Houston's hoop fraternity from Phi Slama Jama to Phi Driva Jiva, penetrating inside to deposit his leaning jump shots over Georgetown's intimidating front line. Olajuwon was eventually returned to the lineup, but was forced to play more cautiously than he or the 38,000 Kingdome fans and a national television audience would have liked.
Much of the pre-game hype focused on the Ewing-Olajuwon confrontation, a subplot that really only lurked on the fringes of the main team struggle. Even strapped with fouls, however, Olajuwon managed to win one second-half skirmish with a brilliant display, blocking a Ewing dunk attempt, then causing Michael Graham to miss from in close, and finally grabbing the rebound away from Georgetown's foiled big men.
That moment, of course, was small consolation for the towering Nigerian, who broke into tears after Houston was frustrated in its third successive trip to the Final Four. Even before the championship game, though, he announced his intention to stay in school and seek to become the first player to appear in the Final Four 4 years in a row.
His return will give Houston Coach Guy Lewis another chance to get the monkey off his back that says his teams lack the refinement to win it all.
If Lewis is tired of answering his critics, Georgetown guard Fred Brown at least has silenced his interrogators. For the last two years, they have reminded him of his bad pass in the last minute of the 1982 NCAA championship game, a blooper that sealed North Carolina's victory.
Monday night Brown had a chance to wipe out that memory, hitting a couple of key free throws down the stretch to help the Georgetown cause. Brown and and Gene Smith, a stocky defensive catalyst who was injured and unable to play against Houston, are the only graduating seniors from a team loaded for next season's title defense. The Hoyas may sneak a smile now, but rest assured the game faces will go back on and the ''Twelve Angry Men'' image return.