"It's gonna come as a shock to them, but the boards as ours," boasted North Carolina-Charlotte coach Lee Rose, looking directly at his power pair, Cedric (Cornbread) Maxwell and Lew Massey, before the start of today's NCAA Mideast Region title game
The backboards and most everything else belonged to Charlotte as the 49ers stunned No. 1-ranked Michigan, 76-68, to advance to the final four in Atlanta Saturday.
UNCC, unranked by UPI and only 17th in the final AP poll, whipped Michigan in every phase of a marvellous game.
But above all, Charlotte ruled the inside as Rose told them they would.
When UNCC owned a decisive 73-61 lead with 2:34 left, the 49ers had outscored with Michigan on offensive rebounds, 15-2, with the muscular Massey getting 13 of them by plummeling Michigan's scrawny 6-foot-3 forward, Tom Staton.
While Michigan could manage only five jump shots over Charlotte's sagging 2-3 zone, the 49ers crushed Michigan's man-to-man inside for 19 layups. UNCC eschewed the jumper, making just two baskets from beyond 10 fee all day.
Deliberate, heady Charlotte took control of the game's tempo immediately and except for 12 Michigan fast breaks, maintained it throughout.
The contribution between Charlotte's concentrated power and Michigan's daring speed offered a taut, dramatic contrast with Charlotte muscling ahead, 40-27, by halftime, then falling behind, 49-48, before making its winning push to a Thursday game with Marquette Saturday in Atlanta.
Just before the second-half tip, Rose was back on his haunches giving a warning.
"I've got something to say," said Rose. "They're class. They've been down by this much before this year. They won't panic. We're not going to panic.
"Let's play tough basketball. Tough every second . . . This is our chance. This is our chance. So don't blow it."
And back came Michigan, exploding 10 seconds into the half as All-America Rickey Green ignited a 22-8 burst in the first eight minutes, by stealing a pass and soaring in alone for a slamdunk.
Charlotte reeled under the onslaught as Michigan spun off a half-dozen fast breaks off steals, Every little thing Charlotte had been doing right to gradually build the 13-point lead went sour instantly.
Michigan's Phil Hubbard, who committed three fouls and was held to two points in the first half by UNCC's sagging Smother Hubbard defense, scored three times in quick succession, Green was a dervish, feeding John Robinson on a break, scoring to finish another, banking in yet another crazy 10-footer off a break, then finally wiggling down the lane and dishing to Hubbard for a layup that made it 49-48 Michigan.
Time out, Charlotte.
The precious lead was gone all blown, with 12:10 still to play. Time for Charlotte still to be blown out, humiliated, the memory of a 27-3 season before today left for ashes.
During a long, almost silent, time-out Rose said nothing.
Nothing except the name of the next in bounds play - "L.A. regular."
"The in-bounds lob went up and UNCC's start player, 6-foot-6 center Maxwell jumped toward the roof of the soldout Rupp Arena. He came down with the hall and laid it in. Charlotte never trailed again.
Slowly, Charlotte's confidence returned. When Hubbard seemed to goal-tend, but wasn't called, the 49ers ignored it. When 6-4 forward Masseys, who had 19 points, and Maxwell, who has 25, missed back-to-back layups, Massey just went back up (the boards are ours") and laid it in for a 52-50 lead.
The knockout punch, the pressing blitz that carried Michigan Wolver ines to the NCAA final last and a 26-4 mark this season, had been thrown and here was little UNC-Charlotte not only standing but smiling. Smiling as they fed Maxwell in backcourt, then cleared out so he could bring the ball up court against Hubbard.
Smiling as they virtually conceded Michigan its occasional breakaway layup.
Inch by inch, with Massey and Maxwell doing the scoring down the stretch, the UNCC lead crept out to four points.
At the four-minute mark it happened: the play of the game, Michigan shot and missed, rebounded, shot and missed. Players were scattered everywhere, on the floor, diving floor the loose ball. It was a Michigan scrimmage, the kind Big 10 teams usually win from the likes of quintets that play in the Sun Belt Conference.
But they didn't win this one. Senior guard Melvin Watkins, the player who moved Michigan coach John Orr to say "Charlotte is built like a Big 10 team," scooped up the loose ball, dashed the length of the court and swept past Hubbard for a layup to make the score 67-61.
Next time down Watkins grabbed the rebound, just one of nine that UNCC's guard contributed, and it was time, with 3:52 left and a six-point lead, to go to the four corner.
That was the end for Michigan. Nobody does that better than Charlotte, unless it is that other branch of the University of North Carolina, the one at Chapel Hill, which is also in the final four.
Maxwell made two throws, and guard Chad Kinch, who in the last seconds of the first half had thrown down an in-your-face slam-dunk on Hubbard, added a layup and two free throws out of the stall.
Charlotte had it won, 73-61, with 2:34 left when desperate Michigan called a time-out.
"You're not there yet," bellowed Rose never cracked a smile. He was annoyed and said so, about the lost discipline, the lost concentration in the last two minutes. "We had some kind of game goin' to see who could miss his free throws the worst," Rose said. "Everybody contributed. That's no way to win a national title."