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A TEAM THAT WAS BLESSED
Frank Deford
March 29, 1982
That's what Wilt Chamberlain calls the unbeaten '56-57 North Carolina Tar Heels, who upset his Kansas Jayhawks in triple overtime in the most exciting NCAA final ever
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March 29, 1982

A Team That Was Blessed

That's what Wilt Chamberlain calls the unbeaten '56-57 North Carolina Tar Heels, who upset his Kansas Jayhawks in triple overtime in the most exciting NCAA final ever

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Carolina immediately assumed control. The Tar Heels collapsed two or three men on Wilt and dared the other Jayhawks to stick the ball in from outside. Kansas played a box-and-one, with Maurice King shadowing Rosenbluth. It was a disastrous strategy; it didn't contain Rosenbluth and it left the other Tar Heels free to shoot over the zone. Of the first seven shots they threw up, Brennan hit one, Rosenbluth, Kearns and Quigg two apiece. Twenty-five years later, Wilt still has the vision of the Carolina center, Quigg, staying way out, chewing gum, throwing up the jumper. It was 17-7 before the Jayhawks went to man-to-man and still 29-22 at the half.

Wilt led Kansas back, and before the second half was nine minutes gone, the Jayhawks were in front 36-35. Quigg and Rosenbluth were each to pick up his fourth foul along in here, too, but even when Chamberlain, then a fine free-throw shooter, made both shots of a one-and-one to put Kansas up by three, Harp kept Kansas in a deliberate offense. Ironically, Harp still maintains, "Had a shot clock been employed then, no one would've been able to come even close to beating Wilt." But still, he elected to hold the ball.

It almost worked, too. Say that. With 1:45 left, Chamberlain, moving up high, whipped a beautiful pass down into Gene Elstun, who not only made the shot but also drew Rosenbluth's fifth foul. As Elstun stood at the line, it was 44-41, and Chamberlain distinctly recalls glancing up into the stands at this moment, spotting a good friend and sighing at him, at last sure of victory.

But Elstun missed, the Tar Heels scratched back, and in the waning seconds Kearns tied it at 46 from the line.

In the first overtime, each team scored only one basket; in the second, none. Carolina was certainly tired by now, and both teams were tight. Kearns missed three straight foul shots, Quigg, the only one he tried. Chamberlain blew a free throw, too. Cunningham had fouled him and Brennan had grabbed him around the waist, angering Chamberlain. He had thrown the ball away and rapped Brennan on the head with an elbow; Brennan had stormed back at him, before others had rushed in to break it up. Then someone had torn over to the Carolina bench and tried to slug McGuire. Back in North Carolina, it was chiming midnight as the Tar Heels went into a third overtime for the second straight night.

Kearns made a basket first and all of a one-and-one to put Carolina up four. But Wilt came back with a three-pointer, and when King and Elstun sank free throws, Carolina had one shot, down 53-52. There were 10 seconds left when Quigg ended up with the ball near the top of the key. "It's funny," he says. "I rarely wanted the ball. But this night I'd felt good, right from the start. Good players feel that way all the time, I guess, but it only occasionally happened to me. It just happened that one of those nights was the night of the championship game." He made a slight pump fake and drove against the invincible Wilt Chamberlain himself. King, coming across to help out, fouled Quigg just as he got the shot off.

There were six seconds left, and McGuire signaled time out. The universal sign. Right palm plane over tip of left middle finger. T: Time. You're not supposed to do that in these circumstances. That is canon. If anybody calls time, it's supposed to be the other coach, to get the shooter thinking, nervous. But Frank McGuire never called a bad time out, and he knew his man, Joe Quigg.

Quigg had hit a solid 72% from the line on the year, but he'd missed the only free throw he'd taken in the game, under pressure in the first overtime. In this particular situation he wasn't a lock. So as soon as the Tar Heels huddled, the first thing McGuire said, calmly, was, "Now, Joe, as soon as you make 'em..." and then he went on to explain how they would work on defense.

Quigg sat on the bench and thought about his dream. He had often dreamed of just this situation. "Only in my dream, it was always a jump shot with no time left," he says. But this would have to do: down one, at the line for two, six seconds left for the NCAA championship.

As it turned out, there really was no time left for Quigg. He was a junior, and he had pro potential, but, as it was, these were the last two shots he would ever shoot.

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