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Off the cuff: "I like the way my team fought and I like the way they guarded," UNC coach Roy Williams said after the season-ending loss to Wisconsin.

I'm not sure the Tar Heels could have played much better, except for that two-minute stretch when Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run and never trailed again.

After a backdoor play that put the Badgers up by a point with six minutes to go, UNC probably should have called a timeout. I know how Coach Williams likes to hold on to those timeouts. But, in hindsight, perhaps Carolina could have ended the run. Instead, Wisconsin scored four more points to go up by five.

The Tar Heels could never catch up.

I thought that if the Tar Heels could avoid turning the ball over and stayed out of foul trouble, they had a decent shot to upset the Badgers. And Carolina only committed four turnovers the whole game but the Heels didn't stay out of foul trouble.

They also missed too many free throws and allowed an 8-0 run in the first half and that 9-0 run in the second half.

Had Brice Johnson, who was in foul trouble, been able to play 30 minutes rather than 22 minutes and had the Heels hit just a couple more free throws, they could have still won.

When Carolina went small, as much by necessity as anything else, the Badgers controlled the boards. One big offensive rebound late led to a kick-out three that took the lead from 65-64 to 68-64 with just over three minutes to go.

We couldn't finish on defense in key possessions (in the seocnd half)," UNC's Marcus Paige. "But we played intense the whole game."

Carolina needed some help from Wisconsin at the end but the Badgers hit all eight of their free throw attempts in the last 42 seconds.

The three-point shot kept Carolina in it throughout including two big ones late by Paige.

"We made some big plays," Coach Williams said. "We just didnt' make enough of 'em."

He feels good about the fact that, unless someone foolishly turns pro or transfers or something, all the key players from this year's team will be back next season.

"They can use this as fuel," he said of the loss. "If we can take care of those little lapses (referring to late runs by Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament and by Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament), we have a chance to be one of those teams that has a chance to win it all."

Wisconsin 79, Tar Heels 72
Late Badger run ends UNC's season

Underdog North Carolina led No. 1 seed Wisconsin most of the way and were still ahead with seven minutes to go but the Badgers went on a 9-0 over the next two minutes to seize control and hit free throws down the stretch to hold off the Tar Heels 79-72. (3/26)

The Sweet 16 loss eliminated Carolina from the NCAA Tournament.

"You have to congratulate Wisconsin. They're really, really tough kids," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "The difference between winning and losing is so small. We came down (with a four-point lead) with JP (Tokoto) in the open court and couldn't convert, and then they scored nine in a row."

The run, highlighted by reserve Zak Showalter's four points and a steal, erased a 60-56 Carolina lead and put the Badgers up 65-60 with five minutes to go.

But Carolina, which went 8 for 13 from beyond the three-point line, didn't fold - cutting it to two twice and to one twice.

Marcus Paige hit a three a shade to the right of the key to cut the lead to 69-67 with 1:39 left and then he hit a three from the same spot with 54 seconds left that cut the deficit to 71-70.

Down by three, UNC's Isaiah Hicks missed two free throws that forced the Tar Heels to foul. But Wisconsin went eight of eight from the free throw line over the last 42 seconds to wrap it up.

In fact, the Badgers outscored the Tar Heels by eight points (20-12) from the foul line. Wisconsin just missed three free throws all night while Carolina missed three free throws in the last 2:49 and eight over the entire game.

Even though Carolina's big men got in foul trouble and even though the subsequently taller Badgers outrebounded the Heels 35-28, UNC led most of the way.

An 8-0 Wisconsin run in the first half gave the Badgers a 25-20 advantage though. A 6-0 Carolina run put the Heels right back up and they managed to lead 33-31 at the half.

The game went back and forth for a few minutes to start the second half but UNC's Joel Berry hit a three, drew a charge and then Paige hooked one in to give Carolina its biggest lead of the game at 51-44 with 12:11 to play.

The Tar Heels held the lead and generally controlled the action until that 9-0 Wisconsin run six minutes later put the Badgers up for good.

Prior to the game, Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, a national player of the year candidate, dominated the conversation. But it was Sam Dekker who killed the Tar Heels with a career-high 23 points, including 15 in the first half, to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds.

The rest of the Wisconsin team woke up in the second half as they shot just 37 percent from the floor in the first half but 58 percent in the second half.

Carolina's Brice Johnson was the best shooter for the Heels as he hit seven of nine but he was in foul trouble much of the game and, despite scoring 15 points, only played 22 minutes. That really hurt the Tar Heels as Kennedy Meeks, who played just 14 minutes, was slowed by a sprained knee and was in foul trouble himself.

UNC's Justin Jackson hit all three of his three-point attempts and finished with 15 points. Paige, who had just two points in the first half once again, finished with 12.

Paige said Wisconsin was a tough team and tough matchup for the Heels but it will be losses to other teams earlier in the year that the Heels will look back on and regret. While the Tar Heels played better than a No. 4 seed late in the season, those earlier losses cost them as they had to play the No. 1 seed earlier than they'd like.

He added that the Tar Heels were a close-knit group this season and that most of the players will be coming back next season. "Next season we'll try to execute better and make something special out of it," he said.

Every person who played for Carolina against Wisconsin will be coming back next season. The Tar Heels finish the season 26-12.


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