TO SECURE DEAN SMITH'S SECOND NCAA crown, North Carolina dipped
again into its trusty gris-gris bag -- just as it had in 1982 in the
Louisiana Superdome when Fred Brown of Georgetown inexplicably threw
a pass to James Worthy of the Tar Heels and thus cast a long-tongued
kid named Michael Jordan in his now familiar role as hero. In the '93
championship game deja voodoo struck. Once again, no rational
philosophy, scheme or system could fully account for the strange
closing moments of a title game involving North Carolina on the
In the final seconds, with the Heels up two threadbare points and
Michigan holding the ball with a chance to tie or win, the
Wolverines' splendid sophomore Chris Webber incurred a technical foul
by calling a timeout his team didn't have. As they celebrated the
77-71 victory that delivered a third NCAA crown to Chapel Hill, the
Tar Heels owed a nod of thanks to their own brand of Cajun magic.
Before the final game it had been noted that the brand-new basketball
court on the Superdome floor had been manufactured in Michigan. But
the baskets, through which Carolina's Donald Williams, the Most
Outstanding Player of the Final Four, seemed to toss the ball at
will, were made in the Tar Heel state. ''To win a national
championship you have to be lucky and good,'' Smith had said on a
number of occasions in New Orleans, and in the championship game his
team was both.
The title game lurched strangely this way and that, with lead
changes that weren't swings of one or two points but tidal ebbs and
flows. Carolina quickly went up five as George Lynch did exactly
what he has been doing over four unheralded seasons. In those opening
minutes he grabbed two defensive rebounds, blocked a shot, took a
charge and threw down an alley-oop dunk on a nifty pass from point
guard Derrick Phelps.
Barely four minutes later Michigan led by 10. That's when Smith,
tired of watching the Wolverines constantly pound the ball inside to
Webber on possession after possession, switched to a 2-3 matchup
zone, the same defense the Tar Heels had used in December during
their one-point loss to Michigan in the Rainbow Classic. ''The zone
was very effective for us in Hawaii,'' said center Eric Montross
after the NCAA title was safely in hand. ''We figured with our
improvement on it over the year, we could kind of pack it in around
Webber and ((center Juwan)) Howard.''
The zone worked well enough that the Wolverines found themselves
taking outside shots they might otherwise have passed up. ''They were
impatient,'' said Williams. ''They wanted to get the ball inside to
Webber, and our inside people did a great job. They weren't getting
good looks at the basket.''
Early in the second half, not long after going back up by five,
the Tar Heels made the defensive play that set the stage for Webber's
gaffe. At the time it seemed meaningless. Phelps had just been called
for traveling, but he didn't stand around moping over his mistake.
Instead, the Heels' best one-on- one defender flashed in front of
Michigan's Jalen Rose to deny the inbounds pass. To avoid a
five-second violation, Howard had to burn a timeout -- the timeout
that Webber will forever wish had been there to call at the end.
North Carolina, meanwhile, kept up its usual relentless stream of
substitutions, trying to wear down Michigan. Indeed, Wolverine guard
Jimmy King would even launch an air ball in the final minutes, a sign
to Smith that Michigan was tiring. The Tar Heels, though, remained
relatively fresh. Earlier this season, who would have thought that
reserves like Dante Calabria, Scott Cherry and Matt Wenstrom would
play in a championship game with the outcome still very much in the
balance? Yet they did, and Smith's insistence on using 11 players
surely paid off in the late stages.
With six minutes remaining, the Wolverines went up by four when
Rose pushed home a three-pointer. A short time later, Williams --
like Mike, a fearless shooter and a native North Carolinian with a
clean-shaven head -- tossed in a short jumper on the left baseline.
Moments later, after King scored for Michigan, Williams unspooled his
fifth and final three-pointer, this time from the right wing, to pull
the Heels to within one, 67-66. For the second straight game
Williams, a sophomore, had launched seven shots from beyond the arc
and drained five.
The upperclassmen took over from there. Off a block by Lynch with
just over three minutes remaining, Brian Reese found Phelps, who
sailed in for the layup that pushed Carolina ahead by a point. Then
it was Lynch's turn. Back in February at a team meeting, coaches and
players alike had agreed that Lynch needed to confine his shooting to
the area near the basket, and here he knocked in the short turnaround
jumper that had become his signature. The Heels now led by three,
Shortly thereafter, Rose fumbled the ball in traffic at the other
end of the floor, and soon Montross was thundering home a dunk. It
was a play that might have finished off a lesser team. But Ray
Jackson came back and tossed in a jumper from the left side, after
which the Wolverines called time. They now trailed 72-69. Forty-six
seconds remained. The Michigan coaching staff reminded their players
that they were now out of timeouts. ''Apparently,'' Fisher would say
later, ''we didn't make the point specific enough.''
But Webber's ignominious moment hadn't yet arrived. He put back
another errant three-point attempt by Rose shortly after Reese had
turned the ball over by stepping on the sideline after receiving the
inbounds pass. So it was that the Tar Heels led only 72-71 when
junior Pat Sullivan was fouled and stepped to the line with 20
seconds to play.
Sullivan's first shot dropped through. The second, however, kicked
off to the left, where Webber picked the ball clean, just in front of
the Carolina bench. As the rest of the players began retreating
downcourt, Webber pivoted, hesitated and then clearly dragged his
pivot foot before dribbling. On the Tar Heel bench, every last
player, coach and manager leaped high in protest when no whistle
No one could have known that Webber would soon balance out the
referees' oversight. Phelps and Lynch dogged him up the sideline, and
with 11 seconds to play Webber covered up, bringing his hands
together perpendicularly and throwing the familiar I-want-time glance
at an official near the baseline.
Suddenly all the players on the North Carolina bench erupted
again, this time with joy. Even if Webber didn't know that Michigan
was out of timeouts, everyone on the Carolina sideline knew. The
Wolverines had spent their last opportunity to win the game, and the
title was now the Heels'. Williams knocked down both technical shots
-- ''I'll just shoot these,'' he said to himself, ''like I'm in a
gym by myself'' -- and another two free throws after Michigan fouled
on the ensuing possession.
''Why did it happen?'' Fisher said later. ''How did it happen?
Sometimes you get in the heat of the moment and things happen that
you just say, 'It can't happen.' ''
The Wolverines had been lionhearts in even reaching the title
game. In their national semifinal against Kentucky, an 81-78 overtime
victory, they sank their foul shots, played floor-slapping defense
and scrapped back after trailing by four in overtime. All in all,
they did more than any team should be obliged to do to repudiate the
poisonous lies about ''underachievement'' that had been infecting the
media. Webber nonetheless left the floor immediately after the
championship-game horn sounded, inconsolable, and collapsed in sobs
when he met his father and brother by the team bus a full hour later.
''It's a shame to think that Michigan will probably get some new
label for losing this game,'' said Sullivan. ''They came this close
to winning two championships and being labeled a dynasty.''
Smith, too, came to Webber's defense. ''I don't think that timeout
necessarily cost Michigan the game,'' he said. ''We only had three
team fouls at that point, and we were going to keep fouling them to
use up the clock.'' As usual, he had every angle covered, every
possible trump card ready to play.
Even on the awards podium Smith couldn't stop coaching. He huddled
the Tar Heels before the ceremony and then actually orchestrated the
cutting down of the nets, so that the seniors went first. Smith
himself used a special pair of gold scissors to sever the last
strand. They were engraved with UNC 1993 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS, a gift
from the same fan who had sent a similar pair that had been used in
''There aren't words to describe this,'' said Montross. ''I'd have
to get a dictionary to do it. It's just unbelievably good.''
Back in the locker room a message awaited the Tar Heels on the
chalkboard. CONGRATULATIONS! it read. GREAT TEAM!
And, just in case anyone was wondering, NO PRACTICE TOMORROW.
This is an article from the April 23, 1993 issue