SEATTLE — Arkansas might have actually done North Carolina a favor by beating the Tar Heels in Saturday evening's Final Four semifinals.
If All-American sophomore forward Jerry Stackhouse is to be believed--and he sounded sincere--the Tar Heels can expect to have him back for at least one more season. And if Stackhouse returns, so will star Carolina center Rasheed Wallace.
Or at least that was Stackhouse's story after the 75-68 loss to the Razorbacks.
"Right now, I definitely feel like I'm coming back," said Stackhouse, who scored 18 points and collected six rebounds in 28 minutes, despite playing with an injured right thigh. "We got close. We might be able to win it all (next season)."
Moments later, when the next wave of minicams crowded around his locker, Stackhouse slightly amended the statement.
"There's going to be a lot of talk, a lot of speculation," he said. "I'm not ruling out anything. Right now, I feel like I want to come back and do some things."
Stackhouse and Wallace have been mulling the decision for weeks. If they stay, North Carolina becomes the easy preseason choice for the 1995-96 NCAA title, especially with the recent signing of top-25 high school star Vince Carter. If they go, Stackhouse and Wallace become lottery picks, and Tar Heel Coach Dean Smith has more recruiting to do.
Wallace was less committal.
"I don't know yet," he said. "I'm not even thinking about that now."
But he has thought about it--and will again. According to Stackhouse, the two players will discuss their plans soon enough. Until then, Wallace, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds (but only two points and three rebounds in the second half), is keeping quiet about his decision.
"Obviously, it won't be a tough one," Wallace said. "If I decide to go, I'm gone. If I decide to stay, (I stay). I don't see it as a nail-biter."
Compared to the rest of the Tar Heels, Wallace was absolutely chipper after the loss. He complimented Arkansas forward Corliss Williamson for his 21 points and 10 rebounds. He compared the Razorbacks' inside-outside game to the Tar Heels'--and he meant it in a nice way. He said "the sportsman in me" was the reason why he was picking Arkansas over UCLA in the Final Four championship game.
Meanwhile, sophomore center Serge Zwikker sat in front of his locker, his head covered by a Carolina warm-up jacket. He stayed that way for nearly 10 minutes.
Over near the trainer's room, Tar Heel point guard Jeff McInnis lay face down on the floor. He was still in uniform and didn't move for minutes.
Carolina almost overcame an 11-point deficit in the final 3:20. But guard Donald Williams missed a game-tying three-point shot with nine seconds remaining. Arkansas got the rebound, made its free throws, and that was that.
"To me . . . I thought some magical goblin was over the rim," Wallace said.