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."
When Notre Dame was in the midst of its big run against Carolina, the Tar Heels helped with several turnovers. The Irish were hot and were going to score their points but if the Heels just hadn't helped out with those turnovers, we'd be talking about UNC as the ACC champions.
Carolina had 13 turnovers for the whole game but six of them came from the 8:44 mark of the second half to the 4 minute mark of the second half - fewer than five minutes. During that time the Heels went from five up to 10 down.
Also during that stretch, Notre Dame hit 11 of 13 shots, including four threes. Meanwhile, Carolina was barely even getting shots on its trips down the court. Tough to come back from that.
This game illustrates how different the game of basketball has become with the ever-growing reliance on the three-point shot. Notre Dame hits 39 percent of its threes normally and the Irish hit 50 percent in this game, accounting for a third of their points.
Free throws accounted for another third. I know I'm not from the attention deficit generation and I'm probably an old fuddy duddy, but I prefer when a team with the most baskets and the most rebounds wins the game.
The Tar Heels scored nine more baskets and had two more rebounds. But this is not the game we have today. I enjoy seeing the occasional three pointer but when you have two teams taking 44 of them, that's a bit much.
I need to crank up the VCR and watch an old tournament final I guess - from back in the day when there were eight teams in the league - and Notre Dame wasn't one of them.
Carolina Football: Golden anniversary of a redeeming 50-0 victory over Duke.
Carolina Football: Excerpts from an article on the history of the Carolina-Duke rivalry.
Henson Barnes, nation's top high school player, signs letter of intent
Duke hurt most by decision
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.
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 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.
UNC advances as Paige explodes late
North Carolina's Marcus Paige exploded for 20 second-half points to lead the Tar Heels to a wild, hard-fought, up-and-down 87-78 victory over Arkansas to advance to the Sweet 16 for an NCAA-record 32nd time. (3/21)
Paige scored just two points and missed seven of eight shots in the first half. "I was rushing it a little bit," Paige said. "In the second half, I wanted to let the game to come to me... After that, I got into rhythm."
An up-tempo Arkansas team wanted to run with North Carolina and force Tar Heel turnovers but just the opposite happened as a recurring Carolina zone slowed the Razorbacks and the Heels took advantage of a season-high 21 turnovers. UNC scored 24 points off those miscues.
The Tar Heels led 39-36 at halftime after Nate Britt, who has played sparingly lately, came off the bench to score 10 points despite the Heels only shooting 40 percent.
In the second half, Paige and Justin Jackson, who scored 14 of his 16 points, helped the Heels increase their field goal shooting to 55 percent.
But the game went back and forth during the first six minutes of the second half. With Arkansas ahead 52-51, Paige, who had two points at the time, took over.
First, Paige swished a three from the left wing to give Carolina the lead at 54-52. JP Tokoto followed an Arkansas turnover with a falling down three-point play in the lane to give the Heels a 57-52 lead.
But Arkansas went on a 7-1 run over just a minute and a half to grab back the lead at 59-58. Again it was Paige that put Carolina back on top win a pair of free throws followed by a coast-to-coast fastbreak bucket and free throw to put UNC up 63-59 midway through the second half.
After taking a break on the bench, Paige came in and sank another three from the left corner and a minute later drained a three from the top of the key to give Carolina its first double-digit lead of the game at 71-61 with 7:18 to go.
The lead got as high as 12 after that and not closer than seven the rest of the way. Despite losing Meeks to a sprained knee late and despite losing Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks to fouls, the Tar Heels wrapped it up with seven free throws in the last minute and a half. Carolina hit 29 of 37 free throws on the night.
Due to foul trouble and the ability to get the ball up the court against Razorback pressure, Carolina often went small with three guards throughout the game. The Tar Heels didn't have much trouble breaking the Arkansas press and were able to get some fastbreak layups.
Defensively, the Tar Heels held Arkansas to just 37 percent from the floor.
Paige also had five steals to go along with his team-high 22 points. In addition to Jackson's 16 points, Tokoto added 13 and Britt finished with those 10 first-half points.
Carolina's big men had trouble as Meeks sat out much of the second half in foul trouble on his way to nine points and four turnovers and Johnson was just two of eight from the floor but he hauled in 13 rebounds before he fouled out.
Michael Qualls led Arkansas with 27 points and 10 rebounds, the first double-double of his career.
The Tar Heels, 26-11, advance to a Sweet 16 matchup with either Wisconsin or Oregon on Thursday in Los Angeles.
© 2015 CB3media Cary, NC
Heel Prints reviewed each UNC game
As a student sports editor years ago, prior to the season, Clifton Barnes predicted a national championship for the Tar Heels and indeed they won. In fact he wrote his lede paragraph for the national championship game almost a year early. He regrets that he didn't keep a journal after each game. He kept a journal after each game of the 2007-2008 season and you can reach them here. At the request of readers, he has kept up his journal of each game ever since. He also has written about UNC baseball and wrote an analysis after each 2008 UNC football game.
Editor's Note: HeelPrints chronicled the UNC basketball, baseball and football seasons for 2008 and 2009. Since the vast majority of comments I get about the site relate to basketball and since this isn't a paying job for me, I decided to limit my coverage and analysis to basketball. Baseball and football will remain archived and if I have comments or opinions I want to make on those or any other sports at UNC, I will make them here on the front page and then archive them in the corresponding sports section. Thanks for all the positive comments I have received about the site. Should I get sponsorship in the future, I will reconsider adding baseball and football again. Ironically, my favorite sports to watch in person are baseball and football. But my first connections to UNC came from watching Dean Smith's basketball teams on TV or listening to them on the radio in the days before all the games were televised. It should come as no surprise that people pay more attention to the basketball coverage. Thanks for your interest in this site.