Posted On: November 14, 2002
1994 Women's Basketball Championship Team
Charlotte Smith had to wait for the replay to watch the biggest shot in North Carolina women's basketball history fall through the net. She was the one who released it, just before time expired in the 1994 NCAA Championship game, but ultimately her line of vision was blocked.
"I didn't look at it," Smith said. "And the mob got me before I knew it had gone in."
That mob, made of her teammates, had good reason to be excited. Just three years earlier, when the seniors on the team were freshman, North Carolina had finished at the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference. So to have hit those heights, earning the program's- and the conference's- first NCAA title, was almost too much to be believed.
That success had been building steadily. Since the 1991 season, when UNC finished 12-16 for its fourth consecutive losing season, the Tar Heels had put together back- to- back 20-win campaigns. Sylvia Hatchell's team headed into the 1993-94 season with five returning starters and an outstanding freshman point guard named Marion Jones, who would go on to gain fame on the track.
First, however, Jones made an indelible mark at UNC in basketball. By the fourth game of the season, Jones was a starter, and she went on to set an ACC record for steals by a freshman. Joining her in Carolina's regular lineup were four experienced players; seniors Sylvia Crawley and Tonya Sampson, and juniors Stephanie Lawrence and Smith.
The Tar Heels opened the 1993-94 season with 11 consecutive wins and climbed to No. 4 in the country before falling at home to Virginia, 77-75 on Jan. 12. The Cavaliers would prove to be the only team to defeat UNC that season, winning again in Charlottesville on Feb. 9, 83-74.
There were a few other close calls, though. At the ACC Tournament in Rock Hill, S.C., the defense stiffened to defeat Clemson 65-64 and advance to the final. Having survived that scare, Carolina finally got the better of Virginia, 77-60 in the championship game, to claim its first conference crown since 1984.
After advancing to through the first and second-round NCAA tournament games in Chapel Hill, UNC traveled to the East Regional at Rutgers. There, the Tar Heels beat Vanderbilt 73-69, despite playing without Smith, who served a one-game suspension for fighting during the second round win against Old Dominion. Crawley picked up the slack with a season-high 22 points. An 81-69 victory against Connecticut put North Carolina in its first final four.
In Richmond, Va., UNC enjoyed its trip but didn't forget it was there to take care of business. The Tar Heels put on a dunking display at practice, then got serious and won easily in the national semifinal against Purdue, 89-74, to advance to the NCAA Championship game.
On April 3, Louisiana Tech led through most of the first half, but never by more than five. The Tar Heels trailed by two when they got the ball out of bounds on a possession arrow with a mere 00:00.7 showing on the clock. After two timeouts, Lawrence inbounded the ball to Smith on the right wing. The rest, as they say, is history.
"It makes it even more special to know that we came from the bottom to the top," Crawley said after the game. "This is the way I've always dreamed about it, and my dreams have finally come true."