Carolina women reign at buzzer Smith's 3-pointer beats La. Tech for championship, 60-59 NCAA WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

April 04, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

RICHMOND, Va. -- Nearly 12,000 people in the Richmond Coliseum -- spectators and players -- saw Charlotte Smith's buzzer-beating three-pointer give North Carolina a 60-59 victory over Louisiana Tech and the women's national championship yesterday.

The only person who didn't see the shot fall was Smith, who had 0.7 of a second to catch the inbounds pass and launch the shot.

When I shot the ball, I just prayed, and God really answered my prayer," said Smith, a 6-foot junior forward from Shelby, N.C. "I didn't look at it [the shot] and the mob came and got me."

The swarm of delirious Tar Heels engulfed Smith, who burst into tears after hitting the shot that won the first women's national basketball championship in school and Atlantic Coast Conference history.

Smith, a career 28 percent three-point shooter, capped a fantastic weekend with a 20-point, 23-rebound performance yesterday. That followed a 23-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist effort in Saturday's semifinal win over Purdue.

Smith was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. She won a similar award in the ACC tournament, but said she was not sure she could make the shot.

"I knew I had to do it. It was an order from the coach, but I just totally zoned out when we came out of the huddle, and I lost all my confidence. I have to thank my teammates for helping me keep my composure," said Smith.

Said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell: "Charlotte Smith is one of the most competitive people I've ever met. She'll play anyone, male or female. She reminds me of that little rabbit in the commercials because she keeps going. She can get beat to death in practice, and she's still out there. The kid is unreal."

Hatchell, who has gambled successfully in switching defenses to change momentum throughout the tournament, saved her biggest gamble for the biggest moment of the season.

With the Tar Heels trailing 59-57 after Louisiana Tech guard Pam Thomas had hit a tough pull-up jumper over two defenders with 15.5 seconds left, guard Tonya Sampson brought the ball upcourt, looking to tie the score in a one-on-one situation.

Sampson's shot bounded off the glass and the ball caromed to the floor. A scrum of players from each team dived to the floor for the loose ball, and North Carolina's Marion Jones grabbed it but was tied up.

The possession arrow gave the ball to the Tar Heels under their basket with 0.7 seconds left. Hatchell called time, planning for Smith or center Sylvia Crawley to catch a lob and tie the game.

However, when inbounder Stephanie Lawrence couldn't find either of them, she called a second timeout, and Hatchell gambled.

"They took the play that we called away from us. I told Stephanie if that happened to call timeout, and she did. Then we changed the play in the huddle, and I told the team we were going for the win, not the tie," said Hatchell.

On the new play, Smith lined up on the left low post block and Crawley on the right block, with Sampson and Jones at the foul line.

Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore chose not to put a player on the inbounder but to keep that player free to give help to the defense.

"There's been a lot of good things said about Coach Barmore over the years, but I'll take responsibility for that shot and this loss," said Barmore. "I had [guard] Kendra Neal on the ball, and then I took her off the ball. I shouldn't have done that."

Sampson broke for the basket, acting as a decoy, while Smith came around a Crawley screen to the three-point arc, losing her defender, freshman Maquisha Walker.

Lawrence threw a perfect pass to Smith, so the championship banner will hang in Carmichael Auditorium.

"I want to praise the pass, the screen and the shot. When it left Charlotte's hand, I knew it was in. It was a lucky call, I guess, but we were going for the win, not the tie," said Hatchell.

Smith's heroics, which included scoring eight of North Carolina's final 12 points and helping to bring the Tar Heels (33-2) back from a five-point deficit in the final 3:30, overshadowed a gritty performance by a banged-up Louisiana Tech team.

The Techsters (31-4) had four players hobbled with leg injuries from their semifinal victory over Alabama. They had battled back from seven points down midway through the second half, with a run spurred by Thomas, who scored 10 of Tech's last 12 points, while their defense kept North Carolina scoreless for nearly eight minutes.

"The one thing that will not happen is I will not allow this team to leave this arena and this town with their heads down," said Barmore. "I'm not ashamed to have come here and lost to a great team."

And a great player in Smith, who, before yesterday, had been known principally for her ability to dunk and being tossed out of a second-round tournament game for fighting.

Now, Smith, like her uncle, former North Carolina State great David Thompson, who took the Wolfpack to a championship in 1974, will be known as a winner.

"I don't get to talk to him [Thompson] that much, but one of the last times we talked, I said to him, 'Who knows? Two decades later, your niece could have a ring, too.' "

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