Jamison's 20 Points, 11 Rebounds Prove Most Valuable for Tar Heels
By William Gildea
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 1998; Page D01
GREENSBORO, N.C., March 21Antawn Jamison, potential national player of the year, led North Carolina to a fabulous NCAA tournament East regional finish today and a repeat trip to the Final Four. Jamison did it with a jam and a put-back that sent the top-seeded and top-ranked Tar Heels on a 12-2 run in the final minutes that demolished a determined Connecticut's upset dream, 75-64. With remarkably balanced help from his teammates, Jamison rose up to put down the second-seeded Huskies for good just as they had rallied to cut an 11-point deficit to one with 5 minutes 37 seconds to play.
"We played a great game and beat a great team in Connecticut," said an utterly sedate Bill Guthridge, who succeeded the retired Dean Smith and today set an NCAA record for wins by a first-year coach, surpassing Indiana State's Bill Hodges, who won 33 games in 1979 with Larry Bird. "The team has worked hard since the coaching change and I'm proud of the players. They certainly deserve this."
The Tar Heels (34-3, the same number of wins and one loss better than when they last won the championship in 1993) will meet West Region champion Utah in a national semifinal Saturday in San Antonio.
They began their final sprint to their 14th Final Four on a long pass, from Williams to Carter and a flip to Jamison, whose stuff set off a roar from the partisan Greensboro Coliseum crowd of 23,235 and rattled U-Conn. The full-court play followed a missed three-point attempt by Richard Hamilton that would have given Connecticut the lead for the first time since the middle of the first half. Hamilton, the Big East Conference's player of the year, was guarded often by Carter and could hit only 5 of 21 shots against North Carolina's big and rugged front line, once crashing to the floor and playing afterward in pain.
Following Jamison's dunk, Khalid El-Amin, the game's high scorer with 24 points, missed a line drive of a shot, which North Carolina used as a springboard to another lightning transition basket. Jamison made this one, too, following up a missed shot. Connecticut center Jake Voskuhl then got tangled amid the North Carolina pine trees and tripped for a traveling violation. With that, the Tar Heels raced to yet another basket as gorgeous as the two previous.
Reversing their positions on the floor, Carter from the top of the key fed a bullet pass to Cota underneath for an uncontested layup. It was 65-58, North Carolina, and the game was over no matter that 3:21 remained.
"We understand the things we need to do to be a successful basketball team," Williams said.
"We were very excited. We were very antsy," El-Amin said of that moment when Connecticut pulled to within one point. "I guess we showed our age there. We didn't execute the way Connecticut can. We rushed our offense. They went on another run and that was the key to the game."
Connecticut ended with a school-record 32 victories and five losses. The Huskies had won 11 straight before today, but today they were playing in North Carolina's "other" home, where the Tar Heels have won nine straight games.
"Our kids fought back four different times when they were down nine to 11 points and gave themselves a chance to win under tough conditions," Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun said. "I couldn't be prouder of what these kids did this game and this season. [North Carolina] made big plays down the stretch. I have great respect for the way they play basketball."
Connecticut remained very much in the game after 20 minutes despite some costly errors and a couple of officials' calls that Calhoun vehemently protested. Voskuhl picked up two fouls, the first marginal, which meant Calhoun had to play Souleymane Wane more than he wanted.
U-Conn. also traveled twice, and Wane was caught on a lane violation on a free throw. Among other matters gone awry, Calhoun took exception to an out-of-bounds call that went North Carolina's way.
On top of Connecticut's woes, the Tar Heels were proving they could run as fast as Connecticut, breezing to a 27-18 lead on a 10-point burst.
Hamilton rallied the Huskies with a pair of three-point goals and feeds to Voskuhl for a stuff and Kevin Freeman to cut North Carolina's lead to 31-30. Twelve points by El-Amin and six rebounds by Freeman helped U-Conn. stay within 36-32 at the break despite the show the Tar Heels were putting on for the home folks. Carter was the show-stopper.
He made two dynamic stuffs. The first one came overtop the 6-11 Wane and was followed by, in order, a glare as he stood with hands on hips, a strut (he once was a high school drum major) and a free throw.
Carter also made a stuff after a 360 in which he spun like a top. After the game, he said he executed the spin backward, going to his right rather than his left. Guthridge, San Antonio-bound, could laugh, then.
"I've showed Vince a lot of films from when I played," the 60-year-old rookie head coach said. "I did it the right way."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company