North Carolina gains Final Four trip, 81-69 NCAA WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

March 27, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Late in the second half of yesterday's NCAA women's East Regional championship game, North Carolina center Sylvia Crawley pulled teammate Tonya Sampson aside during a break in the action and posed a simple, but telling question.

"I asked her, 'Do you want this to be the last time you wear that blue uniform," said Crawley. "She looked at me and said no. I saw a look on her face and I knew we were going to win."

Sampson, a 5-foot-9 senior guard, carried the Tar Heels on her muscular shoulders, with 30 points and seven rebounds as No. 4 North Carolina beat No. 3 Connecticut, 81-69, to earn the school's first berth in the women's Final Four. The Huskies had won a school-record 21 straight games.

"What I've got to do, I've got to do and I go out and get it done," said Sampson, a three-time first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.

What Sampson did to the top-seeded Huskies (30-3) was what she's done to ACC foes throughout her career -- use her physical strength and penchant for hitting clutch shots to her advantage.

"She is extremely quick and strong and she made some big-time shots today," said Connecticut sophomore guard Jennifer Rizzotti. "She's a very difficult player to defend, probably the most difficult player I have faced this season, because she was bigger and stronger and she is extremely quick."

Said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell: "When Tonya really turns it on, she can do about anything she wants."

The third-seeded Tar Heels (31-2), who won the ACC tournament after finishing second to Virginia in the regular season, were hardly Final Four crisp on offense, save for Sampson, who tied an East Regional record with four three-pointers.

North Carolina shot just 42 percent for the game, but earned its trip to next weekend's national semifinals in Richmond, Va., with sterling defense that hounded the Huskies guards on the perimeter to the tune of 30 turnovers. The Tar Heels closed down nTC forward Rebecca Lobo, the Big East Player of the Year, limiting her to 11 points and 13 shots.

"We've played teams that have been as quick, but not as quick and strong as North Carolina," said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. "It's hard to simulate that [quickness] in practice. This is what happens as you go through the tournament. You hope that the matchups you get are not the ones you can't deal with and that's what happened to us today."

The Huskies, the Big East regular-season and tournament champions, were only able to stay with North Carolina for one 15-minute stretch, including the last 10 minutes of the first half, when Crawley, the Tar Heels' only true low-post threat, was in foul trouble.

Connecticut led by seven with 17:10 left, but Sampson promptly led the charge back with a three-pointer and a layup to cut the Huskies' lead to two.

Sampson stole an errant Connecticut pass and took it in for a layup with 14:38 to tie it at 51. Then, after Charlotte Smith hit a turnaround jumper 30 seconds later to give North Carolina a two-point lead, Sampson hit another three-pointer on the right wing to effectively finish off the Huskies.

"We held her [Sampson] for 30 minutes, but those 10 minutes killed us," said Auriemma. "We said if she gets a bucket, we don't want her to touch the ball the next possession, so she won't get on a roll, like she did."

Hatchell said she challenged her team at halftime to do a better job of keeping Connecticut off the offensive boards. She took the Tar Heels out of their traditional man-to-man defense for a second straight game.

As was the case in their semifinal win over Vanderbilt, the shift to a zone allowed the Tar Heels to hold the bigger Huskies to four offensive rebounds in the second half and let them set the tempo.

And so, Chapel Hill will have a representative in the Final Four, but not the one it was counting on.

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