Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"The Shot" in the NCAA tournament belongs to Elon's coach. Now Phoenix are NCAA-bound

The biggest shot all time in a women's basketball game? Are you thinking Kristi Toliver's stepback 3 over 6-foot-7 Alison Bales in the 2006 national championship game? Without it, Duke almost surely would have won its first NCAA title. With it, Maryland forces overtime and of course, the Terps prevail.

We've got one better. North Carolina and Louisiana Tech faced off in the national championship at the Richmond Coliseum. It was 1994.

The shot they called "The Shot" belongs to Charlotte Smith. She drained a 3 off an inbound pass at the buzzer lifting North Carolina to the national championship 60-59 over the Lady Techsters. It was Sylvia Hatchell's only national title and it came on Easter Sunday.

Last weekend, Smith, now the coach of Elon, celebrated another feat when her Phoenix won their first CAA tournament championship, earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Phoenix, an 11 seed, will play No. 6 West Virginia on Friday in College Park, Md.

Elon has never been to the NCAA tournament and had to knock out host James Madison, a team it had lost to twice during the regular season, to achieve the feat. The Phoenix left no doubt at a JMU Convocation Center decked out in purple, knocking out the Dukes 78-60.

Smith is humble about "The Shot." When asked initially about which moment was bigger -- that memory or reaching this milestone with Elon -- apples and oranges was her initial answer. But she had more to offer.

"I just have to compartmentalize it and separate it. But hitting the game winner to win the national championship is a whole other level. That's huge."

On the other hand . . .

"I'm so super excited for my team. I've wanted them to experience this for a very long time. For six years I've been working hard to try to position a team to be able to feel what I felt as a player. It's a great feeling. It's something that someone can never take away from you."

With a look at the players seated next to her on the podium, she said,  "You will always be the 2017 CAA champions"

"I've pushed them so hard because I believe in this team. I believe in the gifts that I've been blessed with and it was my responsibility to bring it out of them even if it was pushing them at times they didn't understand.

"Coach Hatchell did the same thing for me. She pushed us even when we didn't understand. She wanted more. She wanted more and always pushed for excellence. In order to be a champion, you have to stay hungry. You always have to strive for excellence."

As well as Elon played, Smith wasn't generous about heaping praise on her team until the final buzzer. Even so, she promised to study the tape from the championship to point out to the Phoenix what they could have done even better. Not surprising that she recently re-watched that '94 title game and despite her 23 rebounds -- "I know of five more I could have gotten."

Good stuff, Coach. Or better yet, excellent. In '94 and last Saturday, too.

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