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Saturday December 4th

Tar Heels Hope Intensity Fuels Them to Sweet 16 Win

Not long after Selection Sunday on March 10, the North Carolina women's basketball assistant coach looked in the eyes and listened to the voices of her underclassmen players and could tell something was missing.

No excited fire flashing in their irises. No screams of rapture emitting from their larynxes.

Sure, the team hadn't watched the NCAA tournament pairings together because of Spring Break, but the lack of outward emotion from the younger players was disconcerting to Crawley nonetheless.

She still didn't see the spark after the fourth-seeded Tar Heels' first-round Midwest Regional win against Harvard on March 16. And then suddenly, in a 72-69 victory in the second round against Minnesota on Monday -- eureka.

"In the Minnesota game, I saw it," said Crawley, the MVP of the 1994 UNC national championship team. "I saw it in their eyes. They cried after the game. The fans, the atmosphere -- it really, really hit them."

The Tar Heels (26-8), which missed out on the tourney last season, have ridden that wave of emotion to the Sweet 16 in Ames, Iowa, where they will play No. 1 seed Vanderbilt (29-6) on Saturday. The earlier semifinal pits No. 2 Tennessee against No. 11 BYU.

The Tar Heels have made it to the Sweet 16 in eight of the past 10 years but have advanced past that point only twice during that stretch.

"We're happy to be where we are, but we're not satisfied," said UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell. "We've got a tough bracket -- we know that."

While the sophomores and freshmen have needed a March Madness adjustment period, lone senior and All-American guard Nikki Teasley fully grasps the weight of the tourney.

"This is what I came back for," said Teasley, who sat out last season to battle depression.

Teasley has been especially vocal this week, calling huddles away from the coaches to criticize her teammates and get them to pick up their play. "She wants this so bad," said junior guard Coretta Brown, who leads the team in scoring.

And she's trying to make her teammates -- particularly the younger ones -- want it too. The same way Tracy Reid once schooled Teasley in UNC's 1998 Elite Eight run, Teasley now doles out advice in big-sister fashion.

With freshman Leah Metcalf and sophomore Candace Sutton as regular starters and freshman Nikita Bell the first player off the bench, UNC relies heavily on its younger players. Keeping them in line will be crucial this weekend.

"I don't think they really understand the extent of what this tournament really is," Teasley said. "As the only senior and the only one who has been in the situation, it's my duty to help explain."

Sutton, perhaps more than any other Tar Heel, needs to have a strong performance Saturday if UNC is to advance.

Lining up across from her will be Chantelle Anderson, the SEC Player of the Year, who boasts a strong inside-out game. She promises to be a difficult assignment for Sutton, who often shies away from the perimeter on defense.

But Sutton's teammates have been doing their best to convince her that she can play with Anderson.

"The girls have been like, 'Anderson? Who's Anderson? She hasn't seen Candace,'" Crawley said, smiling.

That kind of talk, finally, is music to their coaches' ears.

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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