Patrick Reusse
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The Barn is a fine nickname for the Gophers' Williams Arena, although the decline of attendance in the 21st century has often given it a hint of an abandoned farm structure outside Kinbrae, Minn.

Perhaps the most accurate description for an arena hosting a major college basketball team is The Pit, the home of the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque.

That is where Richard Pitino landed immediately after being fired as Gophers coach in March 2021. The Lobos always draw well — 13,000 a game this season — and Pitino's club was an upset winner of the Mountain West tournament, then was crushed 77-56 by Clemson in its NCAA tournament opener.

The Pit, built into a 37-foot hole in a mesa, opened in 1966. The roof was built first, and then arena construction started. Street level was 45 rows above the court.

I have a sentimental attachment to the place for one reason: It was home to an all-time favorite sporting event I had a chance to cover, that being the 1983 men's Final Four.

That event is receiving much mention this week with North Carolina State making its first appearance in a Final Four since then.

No team has ever previously reached the Final Four with 14 losses, as have the current Wolfpack, needing to win nine postseason games (five in five days in the ACC tournament) to get there.

Similar to Wolfpack '83 for sure, but here's the difference:

Men's college hoops were in a golden age in the '80s, and Jim Valvano's Wolfpack helped make it so with the upset run to that 1983 title.

What we have now is anyone's guess: Improbable as this N.C. State success is, the top six players are transfers. And if unfamiliarity with these teams won't drive you crazy, the refs running over to the scorer's table to spend four minutes deciding whether there are 4.2 or 4.4 seconds remaining on the clock will.

The Pit four decades ago … N.C. State actually had familiar players: Thurl Bailey (terrific) and Lorenzo Charles up front, seniors Dereck Whittenburg and Sidney Lowe in the backcourt.

N.C. State finished fourth at 8-6 in the eight-team ACC. The Wolfpack had to win the ACC tournament to reach the NCAA, but only because it was a 52-team bracket then, not 64 or more.

N.C. State and Georgia basically was the preliminary in the national semis, and it was no surprise when the Wolfpack won 67-60 to reach Monday's title game.

The main event in Saturday's semis was the Houston Cougars, wearing "Phi Slama Jama'' warmups, and then-proud Louisville, dubbed the "Doctors of Dunk" when winning the national title in 1980.

The original doctor, Darrell Griffith, was gone, but Louisville had the McCray brothers, Rodney and Scooter, and also the twin talents from Camden, N.J., Billy Thompson and Milt Wagner.

But Houston? Hakeem Olajuwon, who would become one of the five greatest big men in NBA history, and Clyde "The Glide" Drexler … you can't lose with them, can you?

Well, the Cougars did have Guy V. Lewis in charge, and he was more a recruiter than a coaching savant. He had the Cougars in a zone until the middle of the second half and trailing 57-49.

Then he ordered full speed from his athletes, subbing in Benny Anders … first-team All-Jama.

The Cougars went on a 21-1 run, with three dunks in a row that ended with Anders bringing the thunder.

The final was 94-81 Houston, and later Guy V. was asked what he told Anders when he put him in the game.

"I told him get in there and dunk the damn thing," Guy V. said.

What'd you do, Benny? "I got in there and dunked the damn thing," he said.

Two nights later, Guy V. never could turn 'em loose against Valvano's wondrous coaching, and an off-balance Whittenburg threw up a desperation shot, it was short, and Charles caught it and stuffed the two-handed dunk a tick before the buzzer.

N.C. State 54, Houston 52.

What I still remember clearly about The Pit is that during Houston's flurry of amazing dunks on Saturday, Notre Dame's Roger Valdiserri, part of the sports information crew, standing up and showing a handmade sign reading:

"Welcome to the 21st century."

Valdiserri died in 2022, and I never had a chance to say to him, "Roger, we must be careful what we ask for."