CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The fifth-ranked North Carolina women's basketball team virtually gift-wrapped the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game for No. 22 Clemson by shooting just 35 percent from the field, and having three of their starters in foul trouble.
In addition, the Tar Heels missed the front ends of seven one-and-one free throws in the final nine minutes, and Tracy Reid, the ACC Player of the Year, didn't score a basket until less than seven minutes remained in the game.
But the Tigers couldn't capitalize on North Carolina's sluggishness and the Tar Heels (27-2) won their third ACC tournament in four years with a hard-fought 62-58 victory.
"I know it's not our best game of the year, and it could be our worst," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "The fact that we pulled out a win over a great team like Clemson says a lot about our team."
Said Clemson coach Jim Davis: "There's no question about the fact that they gave us the chances. We simply couldn't capitalize on them. My mama said there would be days like this."
North Carolina's Marion Jones, a redshirt junior guard, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, scoring 23, hitting three of five three-pointers and six of seven free throws, including the final two with 21.8 seconds left.
Jones, who took last year off to concentrate on track, has never lost a tournament game in nine tries during her career. In her absence last season, North Carolina was 13-14 and was bounced from the ACC tournament in the first round. This season, the Tar Heels won 18 of 19 conference regular-season and tournament games.
"It was very difficult to sit on the sideline and see other teams compete against us last year. We just kept reminding ourselves of that," said Jones.
Clemson (19-9), which trailed through most of the contest, took a 54-53 lead with 4: 36 to play on a baseline jumper by guard Caleesha Corder but scored just four points thereafter.
Meanwhile, North Carolina's Chanel Wright (Western) got a put-back of her miss at the 2: 52 mark, then Jones scored on a layup with 2: 27 remaining to give the Tar Heels a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
With No. 4 Georgia's 27-point quarterfinal loss in the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday, North Carolina now appears well-positioned to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, when the draw is announced Sunday.
Pub Date: 3/03/97