ATLANTA — The most impressive thing about N.C. State's basketball team Friday may not have been its work in a 67-64 must-win game against Virginia.
Instead, it might have been in how quickly the Wolfpack players were willing - even anxious - to put the achievement in their memory bank.
"There's something more important tomorrow now," said Wolfpack senior C.J. Williams, referring to Saturday's ACC tournament semifinal shot against UNC.
"This is what we've worked out butts off for all along," Williams said. "We worked all summer for this - out there in the hot sun every day, running, sweating and doing everything we could to get in shape."
While the win over Virginia (22-9) may have been enough to get N.C. State (22-11) an NCAA at-large bid, another today in Philips Arena over North Carolina (28-4) would say just as much about how far the program has advanced under Mark Gottfried's coaching.
A double take - a tournament win over a nationally fourth-ranked team, plus an NCAA bid - would have to rate as N.C. State's best accomplishment since the Jim Valvano coaching era.
Obviously, it's a long shot for the fifth-seeded Wolfpack, which opened with a win Thursday over Boston College. The Tar Heels were made an early 12-point betting favorite.
And by the end of Friday's tense, physical performance against Virginia and Mike Scott, N.C. State playmaker Lorenzo Brown looked tired, as did forward standouts C.J. Leslie and Rich Howell.
Brown (15 points, eight assists) played 34 demanding minutes. On a team with a seven-player rotation, there's a chance the Pack could run out of legs early against the nonstop tempo North Carolina can force on opponents.
Williams said no way.
"We'll get our rest tonight; we'll be ready," he said. "We'll have plenty of energy. That will not be a problem. Heck, we're getting another chance at Carolina. We'll be fired up as you can get."
The Tar Heels won both regular season games with relative ease - 86-74 in Raleigh on Feb. 21 and 74-55 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 26.
In the second game, North Carolina playmaker Kendall Marshall (22 points, 13 assists) overwhelmed the Pack's perimeter. In the first game, Tar Heel center Tyler Zeller (21 points, 17 rebounds) was the overload.
The possibility that UNC star John Henson may sit out today with a left-wrist injury could change the dynamic. Henson was hurt early in the Heels' 85-69 win over Maryland.
"But we still have to do a lot better against Zeller no matter who else plays," Howell said. "We just can't let him work us over inside, and he's as tough to stop as anyone. He's got those great hands and touch around the basket. Sometimes, he's scored before you can react."
Williams said the defense against Marshall will be just as important.
"He's playing really well, but we have to take him away. Now that he's shooting like he is, it just makes it tougher," Williams said. "But we've played them twice, and we have the players to learn from what's happened in those games to get the job done."
An upset not only would make N.C. State a cold lock for the NCAA, but could also elevate its seeding situation enormously. A win would likely put the Pack in the 8-10 seeding range and, of course, open the possibility for even more ascent in the Sunday league title game.
"We came here prepared to play four times," Howell said. "We're halfway there."