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UNC Hopes To Complete Magical Turnaround

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INDIANAPOLIS — It is all about the magic of believing. UNC coach Bill Guthridge thought about N.C. State's miracle in 1983, Villanova's hoisting of the championship trophy in 1985 and Danny Manning's run for Kansas in the 1988 Final Four in a team meeting when he wrote on a blackboard, "Carolina 2000."

"That was really special," says UNC forward Jason Capel. "When he wrote that, everyone knew that if we lose one game, our season is over."

No one outside of the program gave UNC a chance to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis. In fact, many questioned whether a team with a record of 18-13 should receive an NCAA tournament bid.

"This team had all of the ingredients to be one of the best teams in the country, but we didn't perform to our capabilities, and we just underachieved," says UNC guard Ed Cota. "When we stepped out on the court against Missouri, you could see in the people's eyes that they were ready to go."

Guthridge took the blame for the team's problems, saying he had not "pushed the right buttons," but as the criticism mounted, the team drew closer together.

"We felt that it was our responsibility in the NCAA tournament to uphold that tradition and make sure that we got the job done because so many great guys have come here in the past," says UNC guard Joseph Forte.

Weary of Guthridge being blamed for players' mistakes, the Tar Heels literally came to his defense with NCAA tournament wins against Missouri, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulsa.

"People have told me that I have been a little more animated, but I'm not necessarily doing it consciously," Guthridge says.

The players say there is no magic potion for their sudden success, but clearly, this is a team that no longer beats itself.

"We survived the criticism, and we survived the terrible season," Capel says. "We've got a second chance."

UNC will face Florida at 8:42 p.m. Saturday for the right to go to the championship game Monday evening.