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North Carolina keys to victory

By Compiled by BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2000

CONTROL TEMPO: The Tar Heels lack depth and can't get caught up in an up-and-down game. That means they must rebound well on the defensive end, limit turnovers and senior point guard Ed Cota must dictate a deliberate pace as masterfully as he did against the fast-loving Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the South Region final.

2) MAKE HAY(WOOD): Junior center Brendan Haywood, who's been far more assertive in the NCAA Tournament than during much of the season, is the most dominating true center left standing. If he stays aggressive (a question given his track record) and the Heels continue to pound the ball inside to him (another question), he could make the difference.

3) PLAY TO THEIR FORTE: A freshman never has led the Tar Heels in scoring, but then guard Joseph Forte isn't the typical neophyte. He has the rare ability to take defenders off the dribble and hit the three-pointer. As teams collapse on Haywood, he's responded. He scored a career-high 28 points against Tulsa and was named the South's most outstanding player.

4) DEFENSE CAN'T REST: Although their defense allowed an average of 71.3 points entering the NCAA Tournament, the Heels have been more active in both their man and zone defenses of late. Missouri, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulsa averaged 61.8 points, shooting just 37.2 percent from the field and 26.6 percent from three-point range.

5) ROLE PLAY: The Tar Heels, who many thought didn't belong in the NCAA Tournament after finishing 18-13, have relished the uncharacteristic role of underdogs. For one thing, the Heels haven't had to shoulder their usually great expectations. Just as important, they have played like they have something to prove.

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