All season long’s “Hoop It Up” will be republishing select excerpts from Return To The Top on the 20th Anniversary of Dean Smith’s 2nd NCAA title season in 1993. Check back on Monday of each week for the next RTTT.

By Matt Wenstrom, UNC ‘93

The 1992-93 season started well with seven straight wins before we lost to Michigan in the semifinals of the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. Jalen Rose, one of the Fab Five, picked up a rebound with one second left and threw it in. That game showed us we could compete with anyone. It’s one thing to feel confident, another to prove it. To lose to Michigan by one point, on a fluke shot at the buzzer, that’s nothing to be upset about. It showed everyone we were for real.

The trip to Hawaii after a few days home for Christmas with our real families was good for helping to build esprit de corps among the team that we enjoyed all season. It also gave the freshmen a chance to see how the players operated together, and I think they came out of the trip with a higher comfort level of being part of the team.

We played pretty good basketball when we came home until the first half of the Florida State game at the Smith Center. The bad news was we were down at the half, 45-28. The good news was I’d gotten to play six minutes, scored eight points and had three offensive rebounds. Eric (Montross), who had three fouls in the first half, came back and played most of the rest of the way.

The second half comeback was one of the highlights of the season. You can never give up at halftime no matter the score because, if one team can outscore another by 17 points, the other team can reverse that in the second half. We were down 20 points with 9:36 left when Henrik (Rodl) hit two three-pointers and Donald (Williams) made two jumpers. That ignited our rally. The run was capped by George Lynch stealing a pass near half court on a trap and slamming it home to give us the lead with 1:41 left to play. We held them off for the 82-77 win. The crowd mobbed the floor and we celebrated like we had won the ACC Championship or something.

Then we lost two in a row — an 88-621 blowout at Wake Forest and 81-67 loss at Duke. That week did a lot to sober us up. We were reminded that we had to be ready to play every night or a good team like Wake Forest could kill us. We only showed up for 36 minutes at Duke, as they pulled away to win. That was a difficult stretch. You play Florida State, Wake and Duke in three straight games and you’re going to get some blemishes.

The second time around with those teams showed us how much we had improved and developed in just one month. The 86-76 win at Tallahassee was huge, the most intense game of the season. It gave us a lot of momentum as we clinched a tie for first in the ACC regular season standings. We came home to wrap up the schedule by beating Wake Forest and Duke rather handily. Winning over Duke on Senior Day was another highlight, especially since my parents came up from Texas for the game.

This was a unique season in that all the teams that had beaten us In big games recently, we had a chance to return the favor. I called it the “payback season.” Also the year before, Florida State had beaten us twice in the regular season and Sam Cassell had his little “wine and cheese” remark about our crowd. We beat them in the ACC Tournament last year and twice this season, so I think we’ve settled that score.

And then there was the little matter of avenging that loss to Michigan in Hawaii back in December. . .

NEXT: Scott Cherry’s diary on the ACC Tournament and NCAA Regional.