Carolina is looking to continue past trends

Published 2:52 pm Thursday, March 15, 2007

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
CHAPEL HILL — When North Carolina wins its league tournament, look out in the NCAAs.
The last two times the Tar Heels won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, they went to the Final Four. Now coach Roy Williams hopes his top-seeded team — fresh off its first ACC tournament title since 1998 — can rest, refocus and make another deep run through the NCAA field.
It’s usually a good omen for the Tar Heels to win the ACC tournament because historically, they’ve followed those titles with even better showings in NCAA play.
North Carolina followed its two most recent league tournament titles in 1997 and ’98 with trips to the Final Four. The school won conference and national championships in 1957 and 1982, also the last time the team concurrently won both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.
And now, as North Carolina celebrates the 50th and 25th anniversaries of those championships, the Tar Heels want to add to them.
The top-seeded Tar Heels (28-6) joined the rest of the No. 1 seeds Florida, Ohio State and Kansas as conference tournament champions.
North Carolina enters its East regional opener against No. 16 seed Eastern Kentucky (21-11) in nearby Winston-Salem on Thursday after winning three games in three days to claim its 16th ACC tournament title — an achievement that left sophomore swingman Marcus Ginyard wanting more.
Added freshman forward Brandan Wright: ‘‘If we’re going to be national champions, we’ve got to do the same thing over a six-game stretch.’’
North Carolina brings a four-game winning streak into the tournament, and that streak must extend to 10 if the Tar Heels are to claim their sixth national title.
The Tar Heels seemed to find their groove just in time for the postseason, winning their last four games by an average margin of 13 points. They beat rival Duke 86-72 in the regular-season finale before sweeping through the ACC in Tampa, Fla.
The finish was significantly stronger than last year’s. North Carolina was upset in the ACC semifinals by Boston College and squeaked past Murray State in the first round of the NCAAs before the Tar Heels became the second team knocked off during George Mason’s improbable Final Four run.