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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

THE FINAL FOUR: Davids vs. Goliaths

Game 2: Tar Heels' Williams trying to make up for one-for-13 semifinal effort last season.

March 28, 1998|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN ANTONIO — The Final Four becomes the Final Two with jarring finality.

Last year, North Carolina's Shammond Williams was shooting baskets in the Smith Center a day after the Tar Heels' semifinal loss to Arizona.

"It was just a way of me getting over what had happened," said Williams, a stunning one for 13 in the loss to the eventual national champion. "I've never said it to anyone, but I felt like I let my team down last year. A lot of things that I didn't do on the court, I felt like if I would have done something different, we could have won.

"It's a lot of relief off my shoulders to be back here, because now we can have an opportunity to do it again."

Williams, a senior, is playing in his third Final Four in four years for the Tar Heels (34-3).

Utah (29-3), the team that slew the Arizona giant with a triangle-and-two defense, is back for the first time in 32 years.

Only one of them will play Monday night.

The other will head home to think about what might have been, to make shot after shot in an empty gym, knowing none of them matter any more.

"I can guarantee that Carolina will not look by us," Utah Coach Rick Majerus said. "I think they will be ready to play their best game, because they are here and they have the expectation of winning it. They're the No. 1 seed. That's what that program is all about.

"What I have to guard against is subliminally, in the recesses of our players' minds, I have tried to caution them that this can't be the terminus of the season because we arrived here.

"Obviously, two weeks out, everyone will look on the season as being tremendous, but you can't fall into that trap right now. You can't get baited into that trap as though this is the culmination of the season, just having gotten to play here. I don't think our guys are into that."

The North Carolina players as much as admit that happened to them last year. This year they are bent on something different, and only the national championship will do.

Nobody is more intent on making amends than Williams.

Antawn Jamison, named the Associated Press player of the year Friday, is the Tar Heels' big gun. Williams is the second-leading scorer, averaging 17 points a game.

But Williams is explosive. He scored 42 points against Georgia Tech this season, more points than Michael Jordan ever scored in a North Carolina uniform.

In the second round of the NCAA tournament, Williams scored 32 to stave off North Carolina Charlotte's upset bid in the Tar Heels' overtime victory.

He is also North Carolina's Mr. Clutch, scoring 35 points in the Tar Heels' last 20 minutes of overtime.

But one for 13, that stays with you a while.

"Nobody else helped me shoot one for 13," Williams said. "I've tried to be mature about it and put it in perspective, where if I had an opportunity to come back again, I wouldn't be too eager to try to perform, but I would understand what happened to me the year before."

Williams' teammates know what that memory has meant. "He's been working hard all year and has another chance to make up for that game," point guard Ed Cota said.

Utah is very attuned to Williams' ability. And Jamison's. And Vince Carter's. And Cota's.

The Utes aren't likely to play the triangle-and-two as much as they did in stunningly shutting down the Arizona perimeter game led by Mike Bibby and Miles Simon.

"The triangle-and-two, I feel like getting a web site, the thing's become so popular," Majerus joked.

"We'll make a couple of adjustments. I don't think we'll play the triangle-and-two. We got here, going 29-3, with really good man-to-man. There was a certain situation in that game that we had to exploit.

"But within the confines of our man-to-man, we make adjustments. If we go out and make this five one-on-ones and play straight up, we will get our . . . kicked. We may get it kicked anyway, but we try to dictate who will score and how we are going to get beat."

The problem with a triangle-and-two against North Carolina is picking the two.

Maybe you put men on Williams and Carter, and zone Jamison, but he is so quick and moves so well without the ball he can cause trouble. Then there is Cota, a wild card who averages only eight points a game but can take the ball to the basket.

If Utah helps out down low on Jamison too much, Williams can make three-point shots. If Utah overplays on the perimeter, Carter goes backdoor for alley-oop dunks.

"We have a lot of threats on the court," Williams said. "If you try to concentrate on two of them, the other two will get you or the other three will get you. If you concentrate on one, you have four you have to stop."

But for all the Tar Heels' firepower and Utah's offensive finesse, both teams are built on defense--and both have held opponents to 38% shooting this season.

North Carolina Coach Bill Guthridge calls Utah one of the best defensive teams in the country, especially after watching the Arizona game.

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