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Birthday Boy Helps Ice the Cake

Asked what he said to Head, whose 21 points fired up the comeback, Weber said: "I hugged him. I cried. He cried."

It didn't look like either would cry over such a dramatic moment at halftime, when North Carolina was cruising, up 40-27.

Carolina played the kind of first half opponents have been fearing that the Tar Heels would produce sooner or later. The legitimate rap on the Tar Heels all year is that they don't always come to play. Too many big talents and too many outsized egos have undermined many a potentially great team.

But they played with a single-mindedness the first 20 minutes. The Tar Heels went up and down the floor with abandon, yet great purpose and precision. Twice in the first half the Tar Heels scored layups off inbounds plays. They made 6 of 11 three-pointers. McCants, who had 14 points before halftime, demonstrated exactly why the NBA scouts are so fascinated with him, scoring inside and out. And May was just getting warmed up.

The North Carolina lead reached 15 just after halftime, which might have made a lot of teams -- good teams -- panic. But Illinois, even after making only 10 of 27 first-half shots, kept firing away, running down loose balls, flying around chasing all its missed shots.

Down 15, strange as it sounds, seemed right where Illinois wanted North Carolina, especially when Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Head started hitting threes and brought 40,000 or so orange-clad partisans into the game with a headache-inducing clamor.

But North Carolina did all it needed to do: hold on. Williams kept making his situation substitutions and screaming at Felton to get the ball to Sean May. Of North Carolina's dominant inside player, Weber said, "He wanted to win a national championship; he played like it the whole tournament."

Williams, of course, has wanted to win one for years and years, first at Kansas, where his teams failed four times in the Final Four, and here in St. Louis with the Tar Heels. Dean Smith was watching. So was Michael Jordan. But Williams was confined to the help that could be provided by current Tar Heels. In the end, he had the talent and the team to get him through this time, against a team that was 37-1 and essentially playing a home game. May was the best player inside, and Felton was the clutch player on the perimeter. "They've given me moments," Williams said of his players, "that will be with me forever."

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