1981-82 UNC takes Ultimate ACC Tournament
Carolina easily dispatched No. 5 seed Syracuse (2002-03) in the semifinals while Duke advanced with a 2-1 decision over No. 2 seeded Virginia (2018-19)
Duke’s advancement over Virginia garnered a great deal of discussion among our panelists. Both the Blue Devils and Cavaliers seasons ended with a national championship and both teams had their own big three of players. The consensus was that Duke’s Christian Laettner, at 6’11”, a first-team All-American, and 6’8″ forward Grant Hill would have presented matchup problems for even a Tony Bennett-coached squad.
In the championship matchup, in which our panel agreed would have filled the Superdome the clash of the titans would have more than lived up to billing.
Duke would have played defense like many old-timers remember. Laettner at 6’11” would have been a force for Carolina’s bigs to contend with.
This game, fittingly probably would have required three overtimes to decide.
UNC with the combo of Jordan, Worthy and Perkins would have equally given Duke some horrendous matchup difficulties. The 1981-82 Tar Heels were simply in league their own.
Believe it or not, in the North Carolina fan base, there is some argument that the 1981-82 Tar Heels squad was indeed the best baby-blue team ever.
Regardless, the 1981-82 season will probably go down as the school’s most famous.
After all, it was the first of two national championships for UNC Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith’s illustrious career in Chapel Hill.
The 1981-82 Tar Heel team also will forever be a footnote in NCAA basketball history. In the 1982 ACC championship contest against a Ralph Sampson led Virginia team ,UNC, particularly in the second half, implemented Smith’s Four Corners time-melting offense.
In the infamous stall-ball title game ,Carolina won 47-45, after leading 34-31 at intermission.
The game, witnessed by a national television audience, was credited with the NCAA’s implementation of the shot clock to counter such tactics.
The Tar Heels and Cavaliers had two epic battles in the regular season that year. The first contest, played in Carolina’s historic Carmichael Auditorium, was on Saturday, Jan. 9, had the No. 1 Heels unbeaten at 12-0 facing No. 2 and also unbeaten Virginia.
North Carolina won round one on the season with a 65-60 victory.
It was the second time in the 1981-82 season that the nation’s top-two rated collegiate basketball teams had battled one another. Earlier in the year Carolina, ranked No. 1 had easily dispatched No. 2 Kentucky 82-69 the day after Christmas in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
The return league game against Virginia was Wednesday, Feb. 3, in an over-capacity University Hall. Sampson and the Cavaliers destroyed UNC 74-58.
After UNC claimed the ACC Tournament championship, the Tar Heels came close to suffering what would have been a monumental upset in round one of the NCAA tournament. North Carolina had to rally late to defeat James Madison, 52-50.
After the first-round scare, UNC dispatched Alabama, Villanova and Houston to set up a titanic battle with Georgetown.
The Hoyas were led by first-team All American Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and 7’0″ freshman Patrick Ewing. The game was televised by CBS and attracted a then-record of over 17 million viewers
The John Thompson-coached Hoyas established an early pattern with Ewing displaying his defensive dominance in the paint. Georgetown led early 12-8 with all eight North Carolina’s points coming from goaltending calls against Ewing.
Georgetown led at the break 32-31.The second half saw multiple lead changes with no team leading by more than four.
After a Carolina turnover late in the game, Georgetown took a 62-61 lead on a short jumper from Floyd with under 35 seconds remaining.
What occurred in that final half minute will live for eternity in UNC basketball history.
Trailing by a point, after a timeout Carolina inbounded the ball at halfcourt. UNC worked the ball around the perimeter.
Carolina guard Jimmy Black found Michael Jordan on the left wing, and Jordan knocked down a 15-foot jumper, putting UNC ahead 63-62 with 14 seconds remaining.
Georgetown inbounded and pushed the ball quickly down the floor. With six seconds left, Hoya guard Fred Brown was frantically looking for Floyd. Brown mistook Carolina’s James Worthy for a teammate and passed the ball right to Worthy, giving UNC the 63-62 win and the national championship.
Black, the starting point guard and captain of the 1982 national championship team, told me in a conversation on Twitter that the 1981-82 Tar Heel team and season was very special.
Looking back on that team and season nearly 40 years ago, Black remembers it very well.
“Everything about the team and the season was special,” said Black.
“Playing in Carmichael Auditorium had so many wonderful memories, but man that year was the best,” recalled Black.” I still remember the showdown with Virginia in Carmichael.”
“Oh, man, you’re talking about a very talented UVA team with Ralph. That first game against Virginia in Carmichael was just too much,” said Black. “We were ready to play, we didn’t need much motivation, just playing against the consensus No. 1 player in the country made it even more special,” added Black. “You know, I fouled out of that game, come to think of it.”
So Virginia fans can take pride in realizing that while the 1981-82 Cavalier team didn’t make the cut for the Ultimate ACC Tournament, they played a huge role in Carolina’s greatest season ever.
Story by Scott German