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The Daily Tar Heel

History on UNC's Side in Tourney

The coach doesn't tote them around because she doubles as the team's physician. She does it because part of her job involves getting her players psychologically prepared for competition.

The depressors each have a name written on them, and before a game, the team passes the bundle around. The players try to bend and break the wood pieces but can't because as a unit they are too strong to break -- like the Tar Heels.

Or at least that's the thinking. The philosophy has held true of late in the ACC Tournament, which UNC (14-13, 7-9 in the ACC) heads into as the No. 7 seed tonight in Greensboro. UNC has reached the finals of the tournament in six of the last seven seasons, winning the championship four of those years.

"It's attributed to our coaching staff knowing how to prepare us," senior Juana Brown said.

The swing player said a lot of coaches focus too much on getting their teams physically ready for a gruelling tournament schedule. Rather than wear her players out, Hatchell makes sure they are mentally prepared to do battle.

Hatchell also throws a few wrinkles into her game plans for tournament play, when all of the league's teams have seen the Tar Heels twice.

"We always save some things for the end that people haven't scouted," said Hatchell with the look of a poker player holding a straight flush.

The last time UNC failed to reach the ACC finale was 1996. That was also the last season UNC didn't make the NCAA dance card -- a distinction this year's squad is in serious danger of making.

"Pretty much everybody has written us off," Hatchell said. "Which is probably good."

Hatchell maintains that her team's hopes are far from over, and she has recent history on her side.

"I think we're in (the NCAAs) if we get into the finals," Hatchell said.

Of course, the only way to guarantee that is to gain the conference's automatic bid by capturing the tournament crown. But in order to accomplish that feat, the unit will have to be bent with greater tension than it has been before.

As reward for not finishing last in the ACC, the Tar Heels will have to play four games in four days if they are to make it to the championship.

There is good news for UNC: It can hang with any team in the conference. Five of its nine league losses were by five or fewer points, and two went to overtime. The Tar Heels lost two nailbiters to top-seeded Duke and swept second-seeded Clemson, UNC's opponent should it get past Georgia Tech tonight.

"There's just little things that we could have done to win (those close loses)," center Candace Sutton said. "I think going into the ACC Tournament we know those little things we have to do in order to get the victory."

The urgency of the Tar Heels' situation is certainly not lost on the focused bunch that starts three seniors.

"Now it truly is do or die for our team right now," Brown said. "It's all our fault, and now we have to dig ourselves out of this hole."

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