WHEN THE TAR HEELS LEFT CHAPEL HILL for New Orleans on Friday --
midday on Friday, so as not to miss any classes that morning -- they
packed a little ambivalence with them. On the one hand, following the
track meet they had endured against Arkansas and Cincinnati in the
East Regional at the Meadowlands, they felt pleasure at the prospect
of finally facing a team that played much the same style they did.
But they also felt regret that they were now being asked to beat
Kansas, whose coach, Roy Williams, is a good friend of the Carolina
program. Williams had begun his college coaching career as an
assistant in Chapel Hill from 1978 to '88, and when Dean Smith won
his first NCAA crown, in 1982, also in New Orleans, Williams had
savored his mentor's success. ''I wanted everyone to stop saying
Coach Smith hadn't won one,'' he said before the national semifinal.
Alas, by the end of the Jayhawks' game with the Tar Heels,
Williams found himself in tears at the Final Four for the second
time in three years. North Carolina's 78-68 victory didn't come
easily, as the Tar Heel coaches knew it wouldn't. What they had seen
of Kansas in its impressive defeat of Indiana in the Midwest Regional
final concerned them. ''The Jayhawks use their depth so well, and
they have an inside and outside game,'' said Smith. ''They get it in
very low, too. Against Indiana they did it 23 times and got 12
scores'' -- yes, these two teams did know each other -- ''and when
they kick it out, they have four people who shoot over 41 percent
from the three-point area.''
The Tar Heels also had to worry about something much less
quantifiable. In New Orleans in 1982, Williams had spit in the
Mississippi River when someone mentioned that it brought good luck.
''I figured with Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, James Worthy and Dean
Smith, there wasn't much Roy Williams could do,'' he explained during
this year's NCAA tournament. ''So I spit in the river.''
The Mississippi happens to flow past St. Louis, the site of the
Midwest Regional, so every last Jayhawk player and coach went down to
the riverside and spit in the Big Muddy before the team beat
California and the top-seeded Hoosiers. Thus when Tar Heels Pat
Sullivan and Travis Stephenson wandered into the French Quarter in
New Orleans on Friday night and found Bourbon Street to be too
crowded for their taste, they decided to wander down to the river.
Each spit in the Mississippi twice, just to be sure.
Smith's worry over Kansas's three-point shooting was well founded.
Both of the Jayhawks' starting guards, Adonis Jordan and Rex Walters,
would sink five apiece against the Heels. But the Kansas frontcourt,
so effective against smaller Indiana, found a taller order in Eric
Montross, George Lynch and Kevin Salvadori. The Jayhawks' three
tallest starters, Eric Pauley, Richard Scott and Darrin Hancock, got
off only 15 shots among them, and the Tar Heels outrebounded Kansas
by 11. Montross wheeled and powered for 23 points in 26 minutes and
looked delighted to be back playing half-court basketball.
Meanwhile the Jayhawks -- who were forced to collapse on Lynch and
Montross around the basket and were occasionally looking to trap
point guard Derrick Phelps away from the goal -- neglected Donald
Williams, the Tar Heels' sophomore shooting guard. Williams kept
finding himself open, and every time he stroked in a three-point
shot, the big men found the going even easier inside. ''They just
overpowered us at crucial times,'' said Walters. ''Just wore us down
The Tar Heels' biggest scare came seven minutes into the second
half, when Phelps took a hard fall, landing on a part of his pelvis
unprotected by the hip and back pads he has worn since badly bruising
his tailbone in the ACC tournament. Though clearly favoring his side
and grimacing with every step, Phelps tried to carry on before Smith
replaced him with senior Scott Cherry, a plucky reserve who was
nonetheless essentially a glorified walk-on. Smith was invoking a
rule he had promulgated in March shortly after Phelps's injury. Like
any coach, Smith was tempted to hurry such an irreplaceable player
back sooner than might have been prudent. Instead he vowed that no
one would talk | him into playing Phelps before the coach judged him
Yet no sooner had Phelps left the floor than Jordan picked North
Carolina's Brian Reese clean and sailed in for a layup. Then Williams
mishandled a pass from Cherry. With that, Smith had occasion to
confer with Reese, Phelps's roommate, who was now on the bench.
''You know him better than anybody,'' Smith said. ''Can he play?''
''He can play,'' Reese replied, and the coach's latest rule met
The Tar Heels celebrated Phelps's return to action by digging in
on defense and forcing a 45-second shot-clock violation. They would
never trail again the rest of the way. ''I guess you could say they
out-North Carolinaed us,'' said Kansas center Greg Ostertag when it
was all over.
A box score from a Tar Heel victory in 1992-93 was like a passage
of Hemingway: terse but eloquent and rich with idiosyncrasy. Parse
the final box from the game against Kansas, and you'll find every
hallmark of how this North Carolina team went about getting the job
done all season long: The center takes the most shots (Montross took
14); the power forward rebounds in double figures (Lynch pulled down
10); the shooting guard (Williams) takes most of the Tar Heels'
three-point shots (on this day, he launched all seven of the Tar
Heels' threes) and makes most of them (five found bottom); and the
point guard (Phelps) passes off for baskets (six times) twice as
often as he shoots. Could the Carolina computer spit out similar data
one more time, two days later in the championship game? At least one
onlooker in New Orleans was hoping it could. ''There will be
questions about how it feels to lose to North Carolina,'' said the
Kansas coach. ''It still feels crappy. But I'll be pulling like the
dickens for North Carolina Monday night. And if you don't understand
that, you don't understand Roy Williams.''