FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- Though they take a public stance of neutrality, there could be no question that Atlantic Coast Conference officials had a secret wish for tonight's women's basketball tournament final.
Wake Forest coach Joe Sanchez alluded to it Saturday night after his Deacons lost to seventh-ranked North Carolina State.
He said that everybody wanted to see the Wolfpack and top-ranked Virginia play for the tournament title, and after their two previous meetings this season, including a wonderful triple-overtime slugfest, who could argue?
Well, folks got half their wish, but it wasn't the half they expected.
The Cavaliers (27-2), who marched through the regular season undefeated, got unceremoniously bounced from the tournament with a stunning 65-62 loss to Clemson at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Clemson (20-9) plays for the title tonight against N.C. State (25-5), which beat Maryland, 82-75.
"If we're honest, it [Clemson's upset] was fine with us," said Wolfpack coach Kay Yow. "We're not disappointed."
The Cavaliers had a chance to force an overtime when guard Tammi Reiss was fouled attempting a three-point shot with three seconds left, but missed all three foul shots.
"I wasn't thinking anything," said Reiss. "I was very confident I was going to make them and send the game into overtime."
Virginia's loss prompted Maryland coach Chris Weller to recall her 1989 team, which came to the ACC tournament with a high national ranking and a sparkling conference record. She said she was nervous during the entire three-day session that the team would lose and mar the season's accomplishments.
"It seemed to me that Virginia's players felt a little like I did that year," Weller said. "They were a little tight on their shots."
The Terps (17-12) didn't look terribly relaxed, either, against N.C. State, but that may have had more to do with their opponent. The Wolfpack got good penetration from All-America guard Andrea Stinson and strong inside play from Rhonda Mapp and Sharon Manning.
Maryland, which defeated N.C. State twice during the regular season, each time by one point, must now hope for a bid to the 48-team NCAA tournament next Sunday.
The Terps have a high number of losses, but a large share of them are to nationally ranked teams, including Washington, Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas.