Final Four bound: Four decades ago – Lobos or not – and I was hooked on hoop Madness

By Carla Villa

For Enchantment Sports

Basketball fangirl alert!
Notre Dame did not make it past North Carolina to advance to the Final Four tonight (they were eviscerated on the boards on both ends of the court, and you just can’t win without the rebounds).

But this weekend, back in 1978, we both showed up at our first Final Four. Notre Dame came through the Midwest bracket to earn their spot. My dad (Charlie Villa), watching the Lobos have an epic season (24-4, 13-1 in the conference to win the WAC), and taking into account that the West Regionals were being held in the Pit where we were practically unbeatable, booked us into St. Louis. The Lobos fell in the first round, against almost all odds (which is another story entirely), but we kept our date with the tourney.

My dad’s friend Don McGuire, a former UNM SID, had moved on to NBC Sports and was producing the Final Four. With his help, we found ourselves courtside at the historic (long ago demolished) Checkerdome, exchanging pleasantries with Joe B. Hall’s wife. Notre Dame lost the first game to Duke by just 4 points; Kentucky beat Arkansas and went on to take it all. It was the first time, but not the last, that I would watch  the Kentucky cheerleaders gather mid-court and sing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Kelly Tripucka was a standout freshman for Notre Dame, and for my cousin Shirley and me, the cutest guy on the court. So striking was (and is to this day) my lovely cousin, that the Kentucky mascot spotted her and came with his fake microphone to fake interview her. Yes, even a guy in a wildcat suit hit on her! Notre Dame never made it back to the Final Four, UNM never made it at all, but my dad was hooked.

The Final Four became our annual family trip for the next 21 years, taking us all over the country, making us witness to many historic moments in sports, and creating and nurturing innumerable lifelong friendships. Oh, and Kelly Tripucka? I finally met him a couple years later, in South Dining Hall at Notre Dame. I was a freshman, he was a senior. He was still the cutest guy on the court.

Thanks, Daddy! For always buying a ticket for me, for never leaving me behind. Best seat in the house, right next to you.

Carla Villa, owner of High Noon Restaurant & Saloon, is a “Hometown girl who was raised in the Pit.” She’s a UNM grad and a “sports fan, but basketball has my heart.
March Madness is real!” Contact Carla at the above link at High Noon, or email

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