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John McCann | The Herald Sun | December 13, 2014

Championship caliber

  Coach Sylvia Hatchell
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Acing exams was the focus last week for No. 6 North Carolina.

The team has aced this season with wins against nationally ranked teams, including narrowly escaping with a 96-93 double-overtime win at Rutgers on Dec. 4.

Twenty years ago, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell had a team similarly positioned. Charlotte Smith, head coach at Elon, was among those Tar Heels who were undefeated going into the 1993 exam break at North Carolina.

The 1993-94 Tar Heels didn't lose until getting into their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule when Virginia got the best of them 77-75 in the Smith Center on Jan. 12 -- Virginia beat the Tar Heels again the next month. But that was it in terms of UNC losses.

In other words, North Carolina went on to win the national championship.

"We only lost two games, and that was in conference play," Smith said of the ‘93 championship team. "Every day in the huddle, we were talking about being national champions.

"It's one thing to talk about being national champs, and it's another thing to actually put that into action. And I will say, without a doubt, that we put the effort in, we put the hard work [in], we put the blood, sweat and tears into being national champions that year."

This year's UNC team has plenty of games to play before a shot at a national championship comes into sharper focus. Sunday's matchup in Carmichael Arena against Appalachian State will be the Tar Heels' first game since their recent tests in the classrooms, and it'll be one of many quizzes toward the goal of taking the final exam on the basketball court -- the national championship.

UNC passed that test in 1994 in Richmond, Virginia, where Smith, with 0.7 seconds on the clock, rose up from behind the 3-point arc and knocked down the shot to lift the Tar Heels past Louisiana Tech 60-59. The win gave both North Carolina and the ACC its first national championship in women's basketball.

Smith said Hatchell's current team has the key ingredient to deliver her second NCAA title -- chemistry.

Streaking Tar Heels
Date Opponent Result
Nov. 14, 2014 Howard (W) 83-49
Nov. 16 UCLA (W) 84-68
Nov. 19 Oklahoma State (W) 79-77
Nov. 23 Oregon (W) 76-59
Nov. 28 Stanford (W) 70-54
Nov. 29 Praire View A&M (W) 81-45
Nov. 30 Hawaii (W) 74-65
Nov. 4 Rutgers (W) 96-93
"The one thing I'll say is that we had outstanding chemistry," Smith said. "That alone takes you so far."

UNC's title team certainly had some nice talent, including future Olympic gold-medalist sprinter Marion Jones, who was a freshman and played second fiddle to Sylvia Crawley and All-American Tonya Sampson.

Elon has a Dec. 21 date with UNC in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Smith said leading her own program finally allowed her to understand what Hatchell and UNC assistant coach Andrew Calder were up to when they had the Tar Heels doing sprints after a win.

"We were young, and we were just all like, 'We can't believe that we're actually having to run, and we won the game. These people are out of their minds,' " Smith said. "[We're] never looked too far ahead."

Smith played all 40 minutes of the title game, scored 20 points, and the 23 rebounds she pulled down established a record for an NCAA championship game.

"That was so long ago," Smith said.

There's plenty of distance between now and the 2015 national championship. The journey to get there obviously has started for this edition of the Tar Heels, who will be served well by heeding Hatchell's counsel.

Back in November, when UCLA outworked UNC on the glass, Hatchell made the team run sprints. The ‘93 Tar Heels had been there, done that, won that.

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