Memories of 1981 championship loss to Indiana still haunt UNCs Williams

Roy Williams was an assistant coach to Dean Smith at the time and the frustration of the Tar Heels 63-50 loss still remains

Roy Williams

North Carolina’s visit to Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge tonight has given the Hoosiers an opportunity to commemorate the 35th anniversary of their 1981 national championship victory against the Tar Heels. Members of that team will be honored in a ceremony at the game. While the occasion will bring back happy memories for the fans at Assembly Hall and the former players that helped earn the 63-50 title-clinching victory in Philadelphia, it will have the opposite effect on Tar Heel coach Roy Williams. Williams was an assistant coach to Dean Smith at the time and the frustration of losing that night still remains. That became clear Wednesday when he was asked about his recollection of the game. “I remember a couple of officials calls that really ticked me off,” he said, referring to the plays that led to star forward James Worthy fouling out with five minutes remaining. While play on the floor had its memorable moments, the most famous aspect of the 1981 championship game took place several hours before the teams ever got to the arena. Earlier in the day on March 30, President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt outside a hotel in Washington D.C. The game was nearly postponed because of the near-tragedy. But after word came from down that Reagan had come out of surgery and would survive, the decision was made to go ahead and play. Although Williams wasn’t involved in the discussions to determine whether the game would go on or not, he vividly remembers the uncertainty that preceded it. “We got to the game and knew what had gone on,” he said. “I remember standing out in the hallway and then somebody, it was either Dave Gavitt or C.M. (Newton), getting Coach Smith and Coach Knight going down the hall into a room. Everybody knew they were discussing whether we were going to play the game or not. “They came back out and said we were going to play, but there was a lot of uncertainty. The biggest thing is that I know we got word that the President was going to be okay. That had something to do with the decision. I was not listening in on anything. They came and said we’re going to play and that was it.” UNC trailed by only one at halftime, but the game got away from it when Indiana reeled off a 12-4 run early in the second half. “It was an unusual time, it was an eerie feeling,” Williams said. “But I don’t think that gave them any advantage. I just think they played better.”