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Syracuse Region

A Tale of Hares and Tortoises

Tar Heels, Wildcats Will Run; Badgers, Wolfpack Might Not

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page D08

SYRACUSE, N.Y., March 24 -- North Carolina worked on a practice drill Thursday that looked like something a high school teacher would draw up for a hyperactive physical education class.

As soon as the ball passed through the net after a basket, a player quickly grabbed it, whipped it back into play and began another race up the court.

As the Tar Heels went back and forth, Coach Roy Williams occasionally barked, "Faster."

That is how Williams wants to play Friday night when the top-seeded Tar Heels (29-4) face fifth-seed Villanova (24-7) in a Syracuse Region game at the Carrier Dome.

"We want it to be as fast as it possibly can be," Williams said. "With our pressure, the goal is steal the dadgum basketball and attack on the offensive end. I'd love for it to be 110-102, especially if we have 110."

Perhaps no college basketball team transitions from defense to offense as quickly as the Tar Heels, who are averaging 89.1 points per game, and few teams can match their firepower, which includes five players averaging in double figures.

North Carolina advanced to the round of 16 with a 28-point win over Oakland in the first round and a 27-point win over Iowa State in the second round and has Williams in position to make a run at his first national championship.

"They are the closest team I remember to the old UNLV days, when the old Rebels used to go up and down," Villanova Coach Jay Wright said. "They are relentless and that takes a great amount of discipline because you can't play that way if you aren't getting stops and getting rebounds. And we like to run, too. So, we have to do what we do. So we're going to go right back at them and see what happens."

Wright will be working with a shortened bench because junior forward Curtis Sumpter suffered a knee injury in Villanova's second-round victory over Florida.

The injury may force Wright to employ the four guard lineup that he successfully used in beating the fourth-seeded Gators. Such a lineup would naturally create a quicker, fast-paced game.

In guards Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry, the Wildcats have players who can attack North Carolina's press and create scoring opportunities for themselves or teammates with penetration.

The question will be whether Villanova, which averages 73.2 points per game, can knock down enough shots and grab enough rebounds to keep the Tar Heels from running them out of the building. Villanova must get another strong game from reserve forward Jason Fraser, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds in the win over Florida.

Fraser will have to run the floor with, and then battle for post position against, North Carolina forward Sean May who averages 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.

"They like to run, too," May said. "But we don't know how well they're going to get back. So for us, we'll play our game, and if we play our game, we'll be fine."

Regardless of how the North Carolina-Villanova matchup plays out, it should stand in stark contrast to the game preceding it. If the later game is a track meet, then sixth-seeded Wisconsin against 10th-seeded North Carolina State is a wrestling match.

The Badgers and Wolfpack prefer a slower paced, half-court game, and their offenses rely on precise cuts, crisp passing and three-point shooting.

Wisconsin (24-8) averages 67 points per game and has six players who attempted at least 67 three-point shots this season, while North Carolina State (21-13) averages 73.6 points per game and relies heavily on senior swingman Julius Hodge, the only Wolfpack player averaging double figures.

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan emphasizes defense and rebounding and has built an offense that features players with interchangeable roles and relies on patient ball movement until the right shot presents itself.

North Carolina State Coach Herb Sendek employs a Princeton-style spread offense, and his team runs only when the opportunity presents itself.

Hodge, who returned for his senior season despite being named ACC player of the year as a junior last season, remembers being confused when he was introduced to Sendek's system.

"I was like: 'Dang, Coach tricked me,' " Hodge said. "No, I'm just [joking]. I saw it as an opportunity to play in a motion offense, to spread opponents out and create driving lanes to the basket. It also allows you to get three-point shots, which is cool."

Both teams are bracing for an ugly game.

"Wisconsin takes a lot of pride in their defense and so do we," Hodge said. "We're going to do a good job of preparing for them. . . . It's going to come down to who is executing their offense the best."

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