We've just got to be ready to play every game
Posted: Tuesday March 09, 1999 01:01 PM
March 8, 1999
Sylvia Hatchell coached North Carolina to a national championship in 1994. The Tar Heels finished the 1998-99 regular season 24-6 and lost to Clemson in the ACC Championship game. North Carolina received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. As the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region, UNC hosts first and second round games and will open play Friday at 8:30 p.m. against Northeastern. Check out Hatchell's diary each week on CNN/SI.
When they started announcing the pairings last night and I saw Virginia as a ninth seed, I was worried. I thought: They're the second-place team in our conference! If they're a ninth seed, then we may not be hosting.
When I saw where we were, as the fourth seed in the Midwest, I thought, OK. I'm not crazy about the fact that if we beat Northeastern, we might play Alabama in the second round, because they're a very good team and we've already played them once.
When you get to this point, though, everybody's good. We've just got to be ready to play every game; it doesn't matter who we play. But I do sort of like where we are.
As far as the bracket is concerned, winning the ACC really didn't help us much last year, but it sure did help Clemson this year. If we had won it this year, I think it would have put us in a lot better spot. I know if I were Duke I'd be a little bit upset. They only had one conference loss and ended up with a third seed. Clemson had five conference losses. The tournament championship really carried a lot more weight this year than it normally does. When the first three brackets were finished and only the East was left to be announced, I thought, oh man, Tennessee, Duke, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion are all together. That is a very, very strong bracket. I was just glad not to be in that one.
We've had some days off. We practiced last Thursday and then not again until late this afternoon. The players have had time to heal up and regroup, step away from basketball and hopefully come back a little more focused on what we need to do. All along, I sort of felt like this team was waiting for tournament time to come around. The NCAAs are a do-or-die situation and a lot of teams like that, a lot of players like that. Well, it's that time and now we'll see whether that's the mentality this team has.
I think it could be anybody's tournament. I think there will be some upsets. It's just a matter of who can put a good run together these next six ballgames, these next three weeks. So much of it is mental toughness and preparation, and a few breaks here and there.
I think we learned a lot from losing the ACC Championship game. It's the first time we'd ever played in a championship and lost. Every other time we've played in one, we've always won. This is a new experience for our team and I'm interested to see how we react to it. Hopefully it will help us be more focused for the NCAAs.
The biggest disappointment was that we didn't play good defense. Normally by this time of the year we're one of the best defensive teams in the country and we have not gotten close to that yet. If this team can step up defensively, I think we can make a strong run in the NCAAs. It's just a question of whether we're going to do that or not.
When the going got tough against Clemson, we didn't have players step up like they needed to. We're still struggling with some roles. The good thing is we've got another chance to play.
These are things the players have to work out themselves. We work extremely hard in practice on defense and we will continue to do that. That's why I was disappointed in our defense in the ACC Tournament, because we place so much emphasis on that.
But, this is a team that performs off momentum. If we're scoring, usually our defense is better; if we're making stops on defense, then the scoring is better. But when we can't get things rolling and get some momentum, we struggle.
Again, I think we learned a lot in the ACC Tournament. Hopefully in the NCAAs we'll have players who are a little more focused and ready to step up in those tight situations.
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