Retro Lucas: '93 Carolina 80, Arkansas 74
The Carolina basketball season is over, but I'm not quite ready to stop writing postgame columns just yet. So I thought I'd try something unique in honor of the 20th anniversary of Carolina's 1993 national championship.
Twenty years ago on this day, Dean Smith's Tar Heels beat Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament round of 16. I watched that game at home with my dad, slapping joyous high fives when Lynch hit Williams for the game's key backdoor layup. But here's what I think I would've written if I'd been doing postgame columns on March 26, 1993. If you enjoy this trip down memory lane, we'll do it again for the remaining three games on Carolina's trip to the '93 title. Remember, this is as it would've been written on March 26, 1993.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.--Where others see intense defensive pressure, Dean Smith sees opportunity.
We should have known that. Wasn’t it just five years ago that Carolina faced trendy Loyola Marymount in the second round of the NCAA Tournament? Remember all the talk that week about the ultra-modern Lions, about how their breakneck pace (and 25-game winning streak) was going to make plodding old North Carolina look like they should be playing on a peach basket? Paul Westhead's team was the coolest thing since parachute pants.
The results: with just one day of preparation in Salt Lake City, Smith constructed an attack that shot 79 percent—seventy-nine percent—from the field, set an NCAA Tournament scoring record and demolished Loyola, 123-97.
Now came Arkansas in the Meadowlands, five years later and the latest iteration of fast-paced basketball. It's been a frustrating recent history with the Hogs. The Eddie Sutton-coached Razorbacks upset undefeated and top-ranked Carolina in February of 1984--the Tar Heels were playing without Kenny Smith, and it's hard to imagine Carolina ever suffering a more painful wrist injury to a key point guard--and then Nolan Richardson's team ended a Cinderella Carolina NCAA Tournament run in 1990.
Richardson wants to brand his program's style of play as “40 minutes of hell,” and this week in press conferences his players talked about wanting to harass Carolina point guard Derrick Phelps into multiple turnovers. Instead, the heady Phelps handed out seven assists and committed just one miscue on the way to the 80-74 win.
As a team, the veteran, poised Tar Heels committed just 12 turnovers—the second-lowest total forced by the Razorbacks this season. They’ll advance to face another team with plenty of confidence, Cincinnati and brash guard Nick Van Exel.
As it turned out, Arkansas’ 40 minutes of hell was not quite as effective as Carolina’s four minutes of Garner. That’s the second half timeframe when UNC sophomore guard Donald Williams took over the game.
It hasn’t always been easy for Williams, who arrived in Chapel Hill as one of the most heralded prep players in recent state history, but then spent his freshman campaign wedged into a point guard role that sometimes seemed an ill fit for his shooting prowess. But Smith thought the experience would serve the 6-foot-3 Williams well, and with Henrik Rodl serving as the backup to Phelps this season, Williams has been able to spend most of his time at shooting guard.
And for the final 4:24 on Friday night, he got to be exactly what he has always been: a scorer. With Carolina holding a 71-69 lead, the soft-spoken Williams began the kind of run that probably felt all too familiar to some of those opponents in the old Tri-Six Conference. It also felt very familiar to Richardson, who tried to recruit Williams but quickly found out it was largely a two-team race between Carolina and NC State. Williams wanted to play in-state, and he wanted to play in situations exactly like this.
First, he hit both ends of a one-and-one. Then he made a jumper from the wing. Then, on the game’s key play, Carolina came out of a timeout with a one-point lead and less than a minute to play. It seemed like a perfect situation for Arkansas—they’d made their reputation on defense, and now they had the opportunity to create a turnover and win the game with one possession.
But Smith knows how to use a chalkboard, too. He’d slowed down the Arkansas running game by mixing in a liberal dose of zone defense, and now he was about to use their own defensive pressure against them.
Senior George Lynch, who scored 23 points, got the ball out high. Not known as a passer, but always capable of doing whatever fundamental skill might be required to win the game, Lynch waited for Williams’s man to overplay. Then Williams cut sharply to the hoop, Lynch delivered a bullet pass, and Williams dropped through a layup for what felt like the backbreaker.
Williams made three of four free throws down the stretch and finished with Carolina’s final nine points.
“I don’t think I took over the game,” Williams said. “We were moving the ball around and making them work on defense. The plays weren’t really designed for me.”
Well, that’s not exactly true—at least not about the backdoor layup. That one most definitely was designed for Williams—and also designed for Arkansas, too, in a way. Somewhere, you could imagine Westhead shaking his fist and screaming, “That darn Smith did it again!”
The Carolina head coach, of course, downplayed his contributions to the Sweet 16 win.
“I don’t draw up plays too often,” Smith said in the postgame press conference.
Dean Smith doesn’t draw up plays too often. But when he does, they just happen to be game-winners.