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THF Countdown #10: 1991

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Season: 1990-91
Record: 29-6 overall, 10-4 ACC(2nd place)
ACC Tournament: Won Championship
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Kansas in the Final Four

Roster: Scott Cherry, Pete Chilcutt, Hubert Davis, Rick Fox, Kenny Harris, George Lynch, Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, Brian Reese, King Rice, Henrik Rodl, Clifford Rozier, Kevin Salvadori, Pat Sullivan, Matt Wenstrom.

Source: UNC Media Guide

This was one of those fun seasons mainly because of the players on the team.  This was the senior season for Rick Fox, King Rice and Pete Chilcutt who had become a favorite trio of players.  It was also fun because they finally, finally got to the Final Four after falling short every season since 1982.  I vividly recall that regional final win over Temple and King Rice running around the court after Mark Macon missed a shot to potentially tie the game. As a sixteen year old who only vaguely remembered 1982 and suffered through regional final losses in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1988 coupled with the 1984 loss to Indiana it was as though a great weight had been lifted.  UNC was finally back in the Final Four.

Of course it pretty much went down hill from there which is the standard procedure in Chapel Hill.  Final Fours are either about UNC winning the title or UNC laying an egg in the national semifinal.  There has not anything in between since 1982 and I am not sure that bothers me because I am fairly certain Memphis fans feel crappier than the rest of us do about what happened in San Antionio.  The loss to Kansas in the 1991 Final Four was against Roy Williams and was downright bizzarre on so many levels and just when you thought it was going to be just a disappointing loss, Dean Smith gets his second technical foul late in the game and is ejected.

Speaking for myself I was flabbergasted because it was something I thought I would never see.  Dean got the first technical for being irate over a call but the second goes down in the Annals of Ridiculous Occurrences at a Final Four. Via the NY Times:

North Carolina versus Kansas in the Final Four was billed as the student versus the teacher. But there was a twist in this plot as the teacher, Dean Smith, the Tar Heels' coach, got his knuckles rapped and was sent packing before the game was over.

Smith, the model of composure and coaching cool in his 30 years at North Carolina, drew two technical fouls and was ejected from the game by Referee Pete Pavia with 35 seconds to play in today's semifinal game against the Jayhawks at the Hoosier Dome here. The Tar Heels, who were trailing, 76-71, when Smith was tossed from the game, lost to Kansas, 79-73.

After the game, Bill Guthridge, an assistant coach for North Carolina, engaged in an angry confrontation as the officials left the floor.

Smith called the second technical foul against him and his ejection from the game "ridiculous" and "an embarrassment." Had Left Coaches Box

Smith said he merely asked Pavia how much time he had to make a substitution for forward Rick Fox, who had fouled out of the game. As he was walking the substitution, Kenny Harris, to the scorer's table, Smith said that's when the exchange occurred.

"I simply said, 'Pete, how much time do I have?' I asked him that three times and he answered with a technical," Smith said.

Jim Delany, chairman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I basketball committee, said in a statement that Smith had been ejected for leaving the coaches' box.

"The coach may not be out of the box, even in a dead-ball situation or substitution in this case," the statement says. "So, basically the call was by the official that the coach was out of the box and the technical foul rule was applied."

Delany's statement came from a rule stating that a coach may leave the bench and approach the scorer's table to seek information during a timeout or intermission. The only exception to this rule is to correct a mistake or if a fight breaks out on the court. Shakes Hands With Williams

Smith said he thought he was allowed to leave the box because it is common practice for coaches to escort players substituting for players who have fouled out of the game to the scorer's table.

"I was asking how much time, because it used to be a minute to substitute, now it's like 30 seconds," Smith said. "I was just trying to ice their free-throw shooter, because we were out of timeouts."

After he was ejected from the game, Smith shook hands with Kansas Coach Roy Williams and then went down the Jayhawks' bench shaking hands with the assistant coaches, players and team managers.

"That's something I would have normally done after the game," Smith said. "But my game was over with then. I wasn't going to come back out."

The article mentions tha Pavia was known for a quick trigger on technicals having ejected both Jim Calhoun of UConn and Georgetown's John Tompson within the previous year.  Dean decided shake hands with the Kansas team on his way to the locker room leaving Bill Guthridge to coach the team for the final 35 seconds(no word if he did any recruiting during that time.)  After the game ended, Guthridge decided confront Pavia in the tunnel and had to be restrained.  Needless to say loyalty like that might land you a head coaching job when the boss retired.

And while the season had a rather strange ending to it, it was a fun one to watch.  There was the strange business of UNC having to play NC State on back-to-back nights.  This was precipitated by the first game being postponed due to the beginning of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.  The Heels and Pack were schedule to play on Wednesday, January 16th but their game along with many others were called off due to the beginning of that war.  The solution was to reschedule the game for February 6th the night before they previously scheduled game in Chapel Hill on February 7th.  UNC lost the first one in Raleigh with Tom Gugliotta played the role of HOT SHOOTING WOLFPACK PLAYER WHO SCREWS UNC OVER.  Twenty-four hours later it was payback time and UNC throttled the Pack by 22.  Payback was also the name of the game in the ACC Championship when UNC played Duke who had swept the regular season from the Heels.  UNC won 92-70 and sent Duke to the Midwest as a #2 seed while the Heels came out of the East as a #1.

We are only left to speculate what might have happened had UNC taken care of Kansas.  Duke beating UNLV was a huge upset, not on the basis of ranking but because UNLV had beaten Duke by 30 in the 1990 title game.  Duke managed to find a way to win the game and had UNC been able to hold up their end of the bargain, UNC could have deprived Duke of their first NCAA title while winning their 2nd under Dean Smith.  Didn't work out that way and the season that followed with Duke winning a 2nd title in as many years was a fairly low point for Tar Heel fans.

Countdown So Far

11. 2007
12. 1986
13. 1994
14. 1983
15. 1989
16. 1988
17. 1985
18. 2006
19. 2001
20. 1992
21. 1996
22. 1999
23. 2000
24. 2004
25. 1990
26. 2003
27. 2002