By R.L. Bynum
The Hall of Fame coach who prevented a UNC-Duke battle in the 1991 Final Four remembers the crazy way that game finished and the unfortunate exit of another Hall of Fame coach.
During an interview Tuesday morning on the ACC Network’s “Packer and Durham,” Williams also talked about how happy Carolina’s 69–49 East Regional final victory Sunday in Philadelphia over Saint Peter’s made him.
“My expectations for Hubert Davis are off the charts,” said Williams, who, as in previous interviews, talked about how watching games as a fan is more stressful. “I pushed so hard to get him to be our coach. I tell you I was happier — and I mean it, guys — I was happier after that game, taking them to the Final Four, than any game I’ve ever coached in my life.”
The Tar Heels would have met the Blue Devils in the 1991 NCAA championship game if Williams’ Kansas team had not knocked off Carolina 79–73 in a national semifinal. The second national final appearance for his Jayhawks didn’t go well. They lost to Duke 72–65 in the championship game that year in Indianapolis for the Blue Devils’ first title.
The end of the semifinal didn’t go well for Coach Dean Smith, who referee Pete Pavia ejected near the end of the game. Smith shook hands with Williams on his way to the dressing room.
Williams recalled that exchange.
“I remember like it was this morning,” Williams said. “Walked down and said, ‘You know, I didn’t do this intentionally.’ And I said, ‘I know that coach.’
“This pisses me off, excuse my language, because I always thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever that a person of Coach Smith’s stature and at that moment in the game? It was ridiculous,” Williams said. “Game was already over with and, so, for somebody to act like they wanted to be a big shot? Pete Pavia is a good official but he made a bad judgment in my opinion in that game.”
Now that the matchup is finally going to happen in the second national semifinal at around 8:50 Saturday night in the Superdome (TBS), he says that he doesn’t think the dynamics will be anything like they were for Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final Cameron Indoor Stadium game.
“This Final Four, I do really believe will be about the game,” Williams said. “Last game in Cameron was about Mike but I think this is going to be about the game.”
Williams hopes the focus is on the players.
“I think this is Final Four and you should forget about who’s coaching, who’s leaving coaching, who used to coach, who’s coached 500 years ago … go play the frickin’ game,” Williams said. “And, so, to me, this one’s more normal. And, the fact that it’s at the Final Four? Some people kind of wish it was on Monday night? Oh my God, so do Mike and Hubert!”
Even though Duke blew out UNC in the first regular-season meeting, Williams was confident that the Tar Heels would avenge the loss in Durham. He said that the dynamics of it being Krzyzewski’s final home game probably hurt Duke’s players.
“They were so emotional,” Williams said. “I thought it was just off the charts. But I would have loved to have coached that game at Cameron because nobody except Roy Williams thought North Carolina was going to win the game. And I’m serious. Nobody thought we would. But I really thought we had a great chance and, if I were a betting man, I would have bet on North Carolina because all the pressure was on Duke.”
Williams sounded confident about the Final Four matchup given the shooting of Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Brady Manek and the inside punch from Armando Bacot, while recognizing that it won’t be easy.
“Duke’s got unbelievable talent and when their shots are going in, they can beat anybody,” Williams said. “We’ve got really good, good talent. And when our shots are going in, Caleb and RJ are making some of those shots? Brady Manek is one of the greatest shooters I’ve ever seen. When he’s making his shot, that gives Armando all that space inside. Now Mark Williams is a big-time challenge for Armando.”
Williams said that the game will come down to intangibles.
“I think it’ll go down to the end of the game, the team that stays focused and can stay in control of their emotions the longest part of the game, I think they’re going to win the game,” Williams said. “I think it’s going to be a great game. Mike is one of best one of the best of all time.
“We’ve got a big-time team that I think is playing better basketball than anybody else in the tournament right now. We’ve got a coach Hubert Davis who is fantastic,” Williams said.
Williams will be in the stands Saturday at the Superdome to cheer on the Tar Heels.
At Superdome, New Orleans
Saturday’s national semifinals
No. 2 Villanova (30–7) vs. No. 1 Kansas (32–6), 6:09, TBS
No. 2 Duke (32–6) vs. No. 8 North Carolina (28–9), 40 minutes after first semifinal, TBS
Semifinal winners, 9:20, TBS