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Jan. 20, 1998

1980-81 Season is Remembered as the Greatest in UVa Annals

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Can it really have been 17 years ago?

For Cavalier fans, the 1980-81 season is the kind of fond memory that never grows old. Still, two decades have passed since Virginia recorded the greatest campaign in school history.

In a period of four months, UVa compiled an ACC regular season championship, a No. 1 ranking, a 28-game winning streak, and a berth in the NCAA Final Four.

For younger fans, and those with short memories, there was a reason for optimism as coach Terry Holland and his players opened the 1980-81 season.

UVa was coming off an NIT championship -- the first of its two -- and 7-4 center Ralph Sampson was expected to come into his own as a sophomore.

The Cavaliers were picked to battle it out with Maryland and North Carolina for first place in the ACC.

As it turned out, it was not much of a battle. Virginia went 13-1 in the ACC, losing only on some weary legs in an overtime game at Wake Forest in the year.

UVa's run through league pAlay came in a conference that boasted five members with at least 20 wins.

Four teams were ranked in the Top 10 at one point, and the senior class featured Larry Nance, Al Wood, Frank Johnson, and Albert King, among others.

After some easy non-conference wins early in the season, the Cavs had a scare at Harrisonburg, Sampson's hometown, when James Madison packed a tight defense around the center. UVa escaped with a 53-52 win.

Senior guard Jeff Lamp hit a late-second jumper to beat Maryland at College Park 66-64 on Jan. 14, 1981.

Eleven days later, Sampson all but cemented his status as consensus national player of the year. On Super Bowl Sunday, he poured in 40 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in an 89-73 rout of Ohio State. Three Buckeye players, including future NBA pros Herb Williams and Clark Kellogg, fouled out pursuing Sampson.

A pair of memorable wins against North Carolina also were part of what became a 28-game winning streak.

In the first game in Charlottesville, theA Cavs scored on 18 of their last 19 possessions to overcome an 11-point deficit and win by a 63-57 count.

In the rematch in Chapel Hill, UVa fell behind by 16 points before fighting back to send the game into overtime. Sampson hit the first basket in overtime, and UVa held on for an 80-79 victory.

Not until Notre Dame's Orlando Woolridge hit an 18-foot jumper at the buzzer on Feb. 22 would UVa's 28-game streak end.

Losses to Wake and Maryland followed before Virginia righted itself by winning the NCAA East Regional. It took a 39-point outburst by Al Wood of North Carolina to close the books on UVa's season as the Tar Heels beat the Cavs 78-65 in the national semifinals. The Cavs won the final consolation game placed in the Final Four by besting LSU 78-74.

In the 17 years since, Virginia has made 12 NCAA appearances and created hundreds of memories for its faithful. By any standards, though, the accomplishments of the1980-81 team still rank at the top of Cavalier flashbacks.


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Jeff White

Director of News Content

A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.

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