By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 27, 2000
AUSTIN, Texas -- Tulsa star senior forward Eric Coley couldn't believe the finest season in school history and his collegiate career ended Sunday afternoon, but he was remarkably poised in looking back.
"It really hasn't hit me that it's over yet," he said after the 59-55 loss to North Carolina. "In my mind, I know it's over, but to be a part of this team, this university and the city of Tulsa has been a sweet feeling. ... All this stuff that has happened is what you dream about growing up."
Coley, one of 10 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association player of the year award, said this year's unprecedented success should help the returning Golden Hurricane players who can "hopefully continue it."
He said he and his teammates could leave with their heads up, a sentiment coach Bill Self echoed.
"I think this team has represented itself and the university and the city about as well as they possibly can be represented," he said. "They're winners. When we left to go out before the game started we said, "Let's come back in the locker room and not one of us be able to say, what if.' I really feel like we did that.
"This is a terrific team; it's the best team in the history of the school. If you look at our team, we're undersized, but they're tough, they're hard and they like each other and they give themselves the chance to be successful every day. It hurts now and it should hurt because it means so much, but we'll look back after the Final Four and reflect back and think what a special year it was and what a special group it was."
SIZE MATTERS: Although Tulsa did a good job containing UNC 7-foot center Brendan Haywood (eight points) and 6-11 sophomore Kris Lang (four), it had trouble against the towering frontline. The Golden Hurricane had just one second-chance point. UNC had 13.
DID YOU KNOW?: UNC coach Bill Guthridge has an 80-27 record, tying former North Carolina State icon Everett Case for most wins by a third-year coach.
POINTS LEADER: UNC guard Joseph Forte has 80 points in his four Tournament games, tying with Iowa State star forward Marcus Fizer for first.
HONOR ROLL: Joining Forte on the all-region team were UNC senior point guard Ed Cota, UNC sophomore forward Jason Capel, Coley and Tulsa senior center Brandon Kurtz.
IT'S WHO YOU KNOW: In the waning seconds, Cota walked over to CBS color commentator James Worthy, a former UNC All-American, and asked him to wish his father a happy birthday on the air.
ODDS AND ENDS: Lang played 16 minutes after spraining his right ankle early in the game. ... The game marked the largest margin of defeat for Tulsa this season. It lost its four other games by one (twice), two and three points.