Heel nets 2nd chance North Carolina: Shooting guard Shammond Williams will try to put a nightmare to rest as the Tar Heels bid to make every college player's dream a reality.; Final Four; NCAA TOURNAMENT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The perfectionist in Shammond Williams will not let him rest.

Not after the nightmare, 1-for-13 shooting game he had against Arizona in the national semifinals a year ago.

Not after legendary coach Dean Smith once said he was "nervous" whenever Williams had the ball.

Not after all the slights -- perceived or otherwise -- the North Carolina senior has endured over the course of an up-from-the-bootstraps basketball career.

When Carolina invades San Antonio for Saturday's Final Four matchup with Utah, no Tar Heel will have more to prove than the 6-foot-3 shooting guard who fired only blanks the last time he passed this way.

"Last year was a tough year for me, especially in the Final Four," Williams said. "I felt like I didn't capitalize on the situation I had. Maybe if I had done some things, we could've had an extra game.

"It has been on my mind."

Williams had a Titanic-like presence in last year's Final Four. He missed 12 of 13 shots against Arizona and scored three points -- 11 below his average -- in a 66-58 loss that ended North Carolina's season. The team's best three-point shooter, he was 1-for-8 from the arc.

He wasn't the only player who shot abysmally; Ademola Okulaja was 1-for-8 on three-pointers, as well. But Williams not only didn't hit his shots, he didn't find the open man when the Wildcats double-teamed him, either.

It was double jeopardy for the fiercely proud and driven Williams, who spent his off-season determined to make up for his Final Four shortcomings.

A spot-up shooter a year ago, Williams has improved his all-around game by leaps and bounds. He can score off the dribble, handle the ball well enough that even his old coach wouldn't be nervous, and penetrate like a point guard.

His new coach, Bill Guthridge, readily admits the impact of last year's Final Four on Williams.

"I think that's been a driving force," said Guthridge, who 'N succeeded the retired Smith as head coach this season. "He has mentioned it a lot of times. When somebody tells him he has a bad game, he responds in a very positive way, and does his best."

You want to see driven?

Try "Late Night with Shammond".

It was not uncommon this season for Williams to wake up a team manager late at night and gain entry into the Smith Center for a private midnight workout.

Williams said his solo sessions would run anywhere between 10: p.m. and 2 a.m. It was the solitude, as much as the workout, that inspired him.

"I'm so driven to practice all the time," he said. "I'm a person who likes to spend time by myself. I'm able to put things in perspective when I'm alone."

The extra workouts obviously paid off. He is the only player in the Atlantic Coast Conference in the league's top 10 in scoring (17 per game) and assists (4.2), a distinction he shared with Tim Duncan of Wake Forest a year ago.

Williams is Carolina's second-leading scorer this season -- behind Antawn Jamison -- and the school's all-time leading three-point shooter with 232 threes. He is shooting 49.8 percent from the field, 41.3 from the three-point line and 91.0 percent from the foul line.

Not bad for a point guard who wasn't offered even one Division I scholarship out of Greenville (S.C.) Southside High. After a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, though, Williams had his choice of Carolina or Kentucky.

"He has improved a lot in his career," said Guthridge. "If someone says he can't dribble with his left hand, he will work on it until he can do it. He has really made himself into an excellent player."

Williams' fanaticism can sometimes lead him astray, too.

Last Feb. 11, three days after he scored a career-high 42 points in a double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech, Williams walked off the court at Virginia with the first half in progress. There were tears in his eyes and a double-digit deficit on the scoreboard.

Williams reportedly got into an argument with Guthridge after getting pulled from the game. Although neither party will disclose the exact nature of the disagreement, Guthridge said yesterday it was "probably overblown."

"It was over with quickly, solved," the coach said. "It's history. I think that was just a bad day. It all worked out."

Williams, 22, said he wouldn't comment on why he walked off the floor, and instead talked around it.

"I don't know if people misjudge me," he said. "I felt like the things that were done at that time were the right things. I wish the situation never happened. Being a mature individual, I try to make the best decision I can. I felt comfortable with my decision.

"One thing I will say: I was never disrespectful. I never said anything disrespectful to my coach or the team."

Williams returned to the bench -- but didn't play -- in the second half, and finished with one point in a 60-45 Carolina victory. He scored 18 points in his next game against Maryland and has been in double figures ever since.

This week, Williams is reliving his Final Four nightmare.

"I don't think it was so much what Arizona did," he said. "I just wasn't able to hit my shots. Since then, I've matured. I understand what teams are trying to do to me.

"In this year's offensive scheme, if guys play me for the three-point shot, I'm able to go by them. Or if they play me to penetrate, I can pull up and shoot."

The perfectionist in Williams insists on it.

Men's Final 4

At San Antonio

Semifinals

Saturday's games

Stanford (30-4) vs. Kentucky (33-4), 5: 42 p.m.

Line: Kentucky by 8

North Carolina (34-3) vs. Utah (29-3), 8: 12 p.m.

Line: North Carolina by 9

Both games on chs. 13, 9

Championship

Monday's game

Semifinal winners, 9: 18 p.m., chs. 13, 9

North Carolina at a glance

Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Enrollment: 24,141

Conference: Atlantic Coast

Final Four history: North Carolina has tied UCLA's record of 14 Final Fours. The Tar Heels are 3-4 in title games, winning in 1957, 1982 and 1993.

Record: 34-3

How they got here: The ACC tournament champions received an automatic bid and won the East Regional, beating Navy, 88-53; UNC-Charlotte, 93-83 in overtime; Michigan State, 73-58, and Connecticut, 75-64.

Coach: Bill Guthridge (34-3 in first season).

Top six: PG Ed Cota, G Shammond Williams, F Vince Carter, F Antawn Jamison, F Ademola Okulaja, C Makhtar Ndiaye.

Hottest player: Jamison (22.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg) has five consecutive double-doubles in a run that likely will lead to the NBA next season. He's the Player of the Year.

Player on spot: Williams (17 ppg, 49.8 FG%) shot a disastrous 1-for-13 in a 66-58 loss to Arizona in the national semifinals last year, including 1-for-8 from the arc. He shot just 44.8 percent in two games in Greensboro last week, yet scored 37 points.

Potential MVP: Carter (15.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is often spectacular (Did Michael Jordan ever feel free to deliver a 360-degree dunk at tournament time?), but sometimes invisible. If defenses gang up on Jamison, he can make the difference.

Why North Carolina can win the national championship: It has so many offensive weapons. The Tar Heels lead the nation in FG percentage, dominate on the boards and play man or zone defense equally well.

What can stop the Tar Heels: Complacency or another shooting game like they had against Arizona a year ago (a season-low 31.1 percent).

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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