North Carolina Tar Heels Defeat Villanova Wildcats in Final Four, 83-69

Capture the action from the opening round to the national title game.
By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 5, 2009

DETROIT, April 4 -- One of the most important motivational tools North Carolina players used last summer was to think of one game, one half and one score: 40-12. Their lackadaisical and lethargic showing in the first half of last season's national semifinal against Kansas served as ample motivation to return to the same game with the same cast of players for one last chance.

Playing in a record 18th Final Four, North Carolina started Saturday's game with the intensity that was missing in the loss to Kansas, an energy befitting a potential national champion. The Tar Heels built an early 17-point lead Saturday at Ford Field and were never seriously threatened in an 83-69 victory over Villanova.

"Every year we take every experience, every loss and use it as motivation to get further and do better," North Carolina guard Danny Green said. "Last year left a little mark, a nice little scar, so this year we wanted to come back and play better."

The team that much of the college basketball world during the preseason had penciled in to win the national title advanced to Monday's championship to play Michigan State, the team the Tar Heels beat by 35 points in this same stadium Dec. 3.

"I know they are a better team right now," North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson said.

For North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough, who has been the most prominent face of college basketball the past four years, it will be an opportunity in his final college game to accomplish the one feat that has eluded him during his illustrious career. But the story of North Carolina is about much more than Hansbrough. The Tar Heels are a star-laden team that even Villanova forward Dwayne Anderson had referred to as a "machine."

One of Villanova's calling cards has been its physical defense. The third-seeded Wildcats (30-8) had held three opponents in March -- Marquette, Notre Dame and Duke -- to under 40 percent shooting. But with a barrage of three-point baskets, top-seeded North Carolina (33-4) looked indomitable in the opening minutes Saturday, building a 14-point lead just eight minutes into action.

Opponents have found ways to limit one or even two of North Carolina's future NBA players, but the Tar Heels possess more talent than any team in the country. In just the game's first six minutes, three North Carolina players -- Lawson, Green and Wayne Ellington -- made three-pointers. After one outside jump shot by Ellington, a frustrated Villanova fan simply yelled, "Guard him!"

When North Carolina jumped out to an early double-digit lead, Villanova Coach Jay Wright turned toward his bench and began clapping emphatically to rouse them. The Wildcats in the second half cut the deficit to five, but the game's outcome was never in doubt.

"That's what is scary about them -- their runs," Wright said. "You have to score. I think they are playing their best right now."

None of the Villanova players was born the last time their school had played in the Final Four, but they were well aware that those Wildcats needed to play a near flawless game to edge mighty Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game. While Wright saw Saturday's opponent as every bit the juggernaut that Georgetown team was, he told his players that perfection was not needed, only togetherness.

But that couldn't overcome North Carolina's sheer talent. When Villanova cut the deficit to five points early in the second half, Green answered with two three-pointers in the next three minutes to help extend the lead to 13. Ellington was also hot from the outside, making 5 of 7 three-point attempts and finishing with 20 points.

North Carolina's defense has been criticized most of the season clamped down on Oklahoma in the South Region final, holding the Sooners to 2 of 19 shooting from three-point range. And the Tar Heels continued the strong defensive play Saturday, holding Villanova to 5 of 27 three-point attempts.

Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds made the shot that will be most remembered in this year's NCAA tournament -- the jumper in the lane with 0.5 of a second left against Pittsburgh -- but he had only made 33 percent of his shots in his last six games. And Reynolds continued to struggle Saturday, making 6 of 18 shots.

"We are a confident team, but we will not be overconfident Monday night," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said. "We will be intense. We will have a sense of urgency. My team will not be overconfident."

Box score, D5

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