UNC and Villanova — The Final Four diary

Wayne Ellington was strokin for the Heels in the first half.

Wayne Ellington was strokin' for the Heels in the first half.

Michigan State has reached the title game, pounding UConn 82-73 and looking like the better team the entire way. What a rugged, disciplined effort by the Spartans. 

And so now, as North Carolina alum, I am crazy afraid of two things — Villanova, and karma.

Check back for a running diary of the Tar Heels’ national semifinal game against Nova.

Pregame

The thing that scares me the most about the Heels and Wildcats — other than the stark reminder of how things went last season against Kansas — is the five-on-five matchup. The Heels are bigger than Nova, and usually that means good things for UNC. But Nova can go small AND wreak havoc defensively. All I can recall is Nova destroying Duke by 23 points. I keep seeing that over and over in my head, and I can’t help but believe it could happen here tonight as well.

15:28 Not a terrible start by the Heels, though they do look a little skittish. Tyler Hansbrough missed two foul shots right off the bat, and Nova’s quick guards have forced a couple of turnovers already. More worrisome is the Heels’ lack of rebounding. No boxing out. Still, Heels lead 10-8.

14:33 Two foul shots from Hansbrough, a 3 from Danny Green and a bucket for Hansbrough again, and it’s a 7-0 run and a 17-8 lead. From skittish to big-time start.

13:31 Pretty pass from Wayne Ellington to Deon Thompson, and UNC is rolling, 19-8, and Nova needs a TO.

11:32 Ellington hits a 3 and the Heels keep building the lead, all the way to 14, 26-12. Ellington has eight quick points already, and the Heels are shooting a crazy 66 percent (10-for-15) from the floor. Meanwhile, Villanova is just 6-for-20, a 30-percent clip. 

It’s an unbelievable start, and UNC has drilled four 3s already. That should open things up inside as long as the Heels don’t fall in love with the bomb.

10:57 ARRRGGGG! Why Danny? Either go up to block the shot, or draw a charge. Don’t give up a lazy foul for a three-point play. Ugly. Two fouls on Green now. 26-16.

9:02 It’s hard to complain about Hansbrough, but sometimes he should just go straight up for a close-range shot. You don’t always have to try to draw the foul, Tyler. Nova on a mini-run after a 3. 31-23.

7:56 Nitpicking here, cause he has seven points and two assists already, but Lawson looks a little loose with the ball. But it hasn’t hurt the Heels, and Thompson comes up with a big three-point play to push the advantage back to 11, 34-23.

7:31 Ellington is just wet. Another jumper for him, and he’s got 13 points and the Heels have a 15-point lead.

6:30 Tyler Zeller looks more than just a tad overwhelmed.

5:53 Deep, DEEP 3 from Green, who’s back in and gets the lead back to 16, 43-27.

But then he commits another dumb foul. That’s three. There’s a lot of Reyshawn Terry in Danny Green, if you know what I mean.

5:14 “What a bounce pass,” Jim Nantz says of Lawson, who was trying a wraparound to Ed Davis, not Hansbrough, who came in and bailed his point guard out. Hansbrough draws the foul, though, and knocks ’em down. 45-29, Heels.

3:57 UNC still holds a comfortable margin at 16 points, and the Heels have an insane 47 points with 4 minutes left in the half. The Heels are continuing to shoot at a high level, hitting on 55 percent of their shots.

If there is one concern at this point, it’s foul trouble. Green has three, Davis has two and Thompson has two. 

And Zeller has three — turnovers. He’s doing his best Quentin Thomas, freshman year, impersonation.

3:05 Scottie Reynolds hits the 3, and here come the Cats. Look out.

Watch out for Scottie Reynolds, Heels.

Watch out for Scottie Reynolds, Heels.

2:39 Another J from Reynolds, and it’s a 7-0 run and a nine-point game.

And, and, and, wha…?

Did Roy just call a timeout?

Whoa.

Halftime

Not the best closing 4 minutes for North Carolina, and the Heels take a nine-point lead into the half. Considering that Nova shot just 39 percent from the field and hit only 2 of 12 3-point shots, this is still a ballgame. 

The Heels need to keep the pressure up, but Nova forced the tempo in the last few minutes. The first 5 minutes of the second half are going to be huge, just like they were against Oklahoma.

49-40, Heels.

Second half

19:17 And that’s a lousy first minute. Fouls on Lawson and Hansbrough.

18:51 Reggie Redding with a 3, and it’s 50-43. This going to the wire, I just know it.

18:18 Look guys, you have to rebound. That’s 14 offensive rebounds for Nova, and now it’s a five-point game.

17:54 And now an offensive foul on Hansbrough. Oh no.

17:26 HUGE 3 from Green. Back to eight, 53-45.

17:10 Now that’s Tar Heels’ basketball. Force the turnover, get into the open floor, knock it down. Lawson misses the foul shot, but it’s back up to 10, 55-45.

16:49 Oh, man. Reynolds picked up his third foul, but now Lawson does the same. Not good. The Heels will need some big minutes from Bobby Frasor.

16:06 With blood on his jersey, Lawson is now No. 25 in your program, No. 1 in your hearts. Heels have got to rebound.

15:17 Another huge 3 from Green. Stay on the floor, Danny. Back up to 13, 58-45.

14:57 But this isn’t going to be easy down the stretch. The Heels are a little sloppy on defense, and it leads to another foul on Hansbrough — his third. A lot of that has to do with Nova’s physical toughness, and it’s going to keep this game within striking distance.

UNC needs to be careful, and maybe finding Ellington once or twice this half would help.

Still, the Heels were giving it away in the first two minutes of the second half, but found a way to build their lead before the first timeout. That’s good stuff. Now the Heels just have to make sure their best players can stay on the floor.

14:31 Lawson’s back in his No. 5.

14:03 A made free throw would be nice. C’mon now. Lawson misses two.

Oh, and some would boxing out would be great, too.

11:58 After calling a couple of chippee reach-in fouls while letting the big guys bang underneath, the Heels get a cheap one as Davis lays it in. He’ll attempt the foul shot after the break, but the Heels lead by a fortuitous 12 points, 61-49.

And what an effort by Frasor, who has six rebounds, four of them on the offensive end. That’s big, because they are long rebounds, and that’s how teams can get out in transition. Who knows how many points Frasor has kept Nova from scoring?

11:13 NBA-range 3 for Lawson. Back to 16 points, 65-49. Good rotation on offense there. Pretty.

9:50 A little too slow the last two times down the floor for the Heels. Need to keep the pressure up. Don’t play Nova’s game in the last 10 minutes.

8:54 Two dribble-drives by Lawson. Much better. Put the game in his hands. UNC is already in the bonus now. Time to milk it away from the line. Heels, 67-51.

8:09 Dammit. Fourth foul on Hansbrough.

6:53 They found him. Ellington with a pretty rhythmic 3. Back to 15, 70-55.

5:29 A long stretch before the 7-minute timeout, and the Heels, while sloppy, are getting away with it because Nova just can’t make a thing. Nantz just said it — UNC’s last two opponents are 5-for-46 from 3.

It may be a little early to say this, but why does Nova shoot so many 3s? The Wildcats, 3-for-25 now, were shooting under 30 percent from long range coming into the game. So why keep doing it? They have quick guards and foul trouble on the Heels. Why not drive and post up?

4:46 And that might be it. Another 3 from Ellington, who now has 19 points, and the Heels take their largest lead, 75-57.

UNC is 11-for-21 from 3, and just about every one of them has been a good look. Usually, when UNC attempts around 25 3s, they’re in a dogfight of a game. But these have been open shots.

4:20 And as soon as I write that, Redding buries a 3 and now Lawson turns it over and it leads to a potential 3-point play. Good God guys, the game should be over. What are you doing? Might be down to 12 now with plenty of time.

3:42 Great rebound by Green off the missed foul shot by Davis. UNC is just 16 of 29 from the line, though. Ugh.

But Lawson now hits a pair, and the lead is 14, 77-63.

3:28 Yes, Danny, that’s how you draw the charge. Heels ball.

2:41 Dumb bump foul on Thompson 40 feet from the hoop, but c’mon refs. For what you guys have let go, you call that?

2:19 Lawson hits another pair, and now he has 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. A great, great player.

1:38 Danny, listen. You’re up 15. There are 98 seconds left and you’re in the title game. Let the guy make the layup. Don’t foul.

Thanks for the 3s, though. They were all huge.

1:00 One minute to go….

Final 83-69.

It was a brilliantly played first 16 minutes for the Heels, and despite some cold shooting the second half, the defense was again excellent and the 3s were timely. Every single one in the second half seemed to come just as Nova was building on a run, and the Heels found a way to turn them away each time from 21-to-24 feet.

Now it’s on to a very different Michigan State team than the one the Heels beat by 35 points on Dec. 3.

But Tyler Hansbrough and Co. have never been closer to a national title. 

Well done, Heels.

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Filed under ACC, ACC Tournament, Big East Tournament, College Basketball, Designated Hitter, Final Four, Michigan State, NCAA Tournament, North Carolina Tar Heels, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, Ty Lawson, Ty Lawsons, Tyler Hansbrough, UConn Huskies, UNC Tar Heels, Villanova

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