On Friday night, I went to bed thinking I was going to be able to handle this one OK.
Then I woke up Saturday morning.
I’ve been counting the hours down to this, and hope like crazy that I get to do it again in about 48 hours.
Kansas. North Carolina. Two historic programs. The Final Four. Who will play Memphis for the national title on Monday night?
Memphis topped UCLA in the first semifinal, which is surprising and it’s not. Any of these four teams are good enough to win the whole thing, but Memphis was pretty much in control after an early run in the second half. UCLA got back within five points, but never really threatened.
One thing for Heels’ fans to worry about? Like many Final Four games, the first game featured a lot of whistles. Carolina likes to contest shots and try to block a lot of them. If this game isn’t allowed to be a physical one, UNC could be in trouble.
A few boos mixed in there with Roy Williams’ introduction. So this “Kansas fans hate Roy now” thing isn’t just some media infatuation?
16:18 You know how North Carolina’s opponents have looked all season long against the breakneak Tar Heels?
That’s what UNC looks like to start. Kansas appears in the early going to just be faster than UNC across the board. While Tyler Hansbrough has made two nice baskets, the Jayhawks are doing what they want to at will, evidenced by the easy over-the-top passes inside to Darrell Arthur, who has four points in Kansas’ 11-6 start.
Basketball is all about matchups, and already, this just looks like a bad matchup for the Heels.
13:51 Bad sign for UNC. Down seven, Danny Green has a wide open 3-point look at the top of the key and doesn’t pull the trigger, traveling with the ball.
This isn’t the time to be timid.
11:30 Good job, Roy. You saved a timeout. You knew the next loose ball would result in a TV timeout, so you let them play.
Meanwhile, North Carolina is playing its worst stretch of basketball of the season — and that’s not an exaggeration, that was the WORST stretch they have played all year — and Kansas romps to a 13-point lead, 23-10.
At least UNC will have timeouts left when it’s down 20 in the second half.
10:34 Five straight points for Brandon Rush, and now it’s an 18-point game. Kansas on a 13-0 run.
10:10 Another 3 from Rush. It’s 31-10. Carolina hasn’t been down by this much the entire season. Kansas is shooting 77 percent from the floor.
This might be over already.
9:40 19-0 run. A 23-point game.
And Roy’s sitting there.
7:32 OK, so now we know. The threshold is 26 points. UNC has to be down by 26 frickin’ points for Hall of Famer Roy Williams to call a timeout. 38-12.
12 points in 12 minutes.
Seriously, if Carolina is to have any chance at making a miracle comeback, they have to somehow get this to a 15-to-17-point game by the half.
And then they need to perform another miracle in the second half.
What a story it would make.
One you wouldn’t believe.
4:32 Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyy! Wayne Ellington gets a steal and a layup, the Heels’ first field goal in 9:03. Now it’s only a 23-point game. Heels on a 5-0 run. Here they come.
3:36 A third charge drawn by Hansbrough. It’s the second foul on Rush. Heels have scored seven straight. Get it to 15 or so, and who knows?
UNC is shooting 25 percent. That has to change.
2:29 Green hits a 3, and it’s a 10-0 spurt. I’ve never been so excited to be down 18 points.
The Heels have come back from 18 this year, against Boston College, which made everything in the first half, too.
10.0 seconds. A 3 and a layup by Green and it’s a 15-point game.
This is doable now.
0.0 Damn. Big shot for Kansas. Sherron Collins’ runner makes it a 17-point game, 44-27 at the break.
Well, at least there’s hope.
OK, the Heels can’t allow themselves to fall behind by more than 17 the rest of the game. They need a quick start to the half, get the game down to about 10 points by the 10-minute mark and then try to throw the house at Kansas from there.
It’s all or nothing, and they need to play like they’ve never played before just to make this close, let alone win it. It would only be the biggest comeback in the history of the Final Four.
For some reason, I still think there’s an outside shot it can happen.
17:27 Heels begin the half by trading baskets. Easy baskets for Kansas and no defensive intensity for UNC. This can’t happen.
But Hansbrough makes a three-point play and it’s down to 16, 52-36.
16:04 A little luck for the Heels. Kansas misses a wide open 3 and Green hits one. It’s down to 14, 54-40.
15:54 And there’s an offensive foul on Kansas’ Sasha Kaun. Heels’ ball after the timeout.
Still, UNC has to play better defense. That six-point swing was fortunate — Rush just missed as wide open a 3 as he’ll ever get.
14:50 Inching closer. Another J from Green. It’s 12, 54-42.
14:12 A great halfcourt trap, forcing a jumpball, and then Ellington hits a jumper. Down to 10, and there’s 14 minutes left!
12:20 A couple of shaky minutes on both sides, and then Ellington with a steal, a dazzling turnaround move and shoots a midrange shot in front of four Kansas players.
That was an all-or-nothing shot. If he misses, it’s Jayhawks’ ball. But he made it.
And it’s an eight-point game, 54-46.
12:01 Are you kidding me?! Steal by Ellington, feeds to Lawson, who gets his shot blocked. But Hansbrough is there — and is fouled!
But he misses the foul shot. That’s OK, though. Still only six points.
11:14 Pretty backdoor play to Ellington for the layup. It’s four.
7:53 Kansas is finally beginning to look like itself again, going deep inside for two easy buckets and push the lead back to eight.
But Ellington hits a big 3 to get it back to five, and the Heels send out a mishmash crew to try to get Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson and Ginyard some rest before a final push.
UNC still needs stops, and the Jayhawks are starting to look like they’re getting their legs back. But the Heels have a chance, which is much more than we thought they’d have when it was 40-12.
4:47 Three minutes of stunning basketball on both sides. Kaun dunks an alley-oop to give the Jayhawks a nine-point edge, and then they go back and forth, the Heels closing within five again on an incredible Hansbrough runner until Rush makes an easy layup.
The Heels look gassed and Roy calls a great timeout.
3:40 Maybe this is why he doesn’t call them. Heels are about dead in the water now. Darnell Jackson gets an alley-oop dunk and then another layup off an offensive rebound, and the lead is back to 12, 73-61. Done deal now.
That’s the ballgame.
At least the Heels made it one, though.
Kansas’ 6-0 spurt that made it a 12-point game stretched to 13-0 and the game was gone.
The Heels made an improbable run, got within four points, and then Kansas put it together. Was UNC gassed at the end? Probably. But give the Jayhawks credit — they withstood the storm and in the last 7 minutes of the game, they got back to what built their huge lead in the first half.
It’s a sad way for the season to end, seeing the Heels get their doors blown off for much of the game.
But Kansas was better in every regard — offense, defense, poise, coaching — except for a 15-minute stretch in the middle.
And now, for Heels’ fans everywhere, the waiting begins.