North Carolina, the comeback kids of the NCAA basketball tournament, did it again today with 14 unanswered second-half points and 14 minutes of four-corners offense to nip Nevada-Las Vegas, 84-83, and advance to Monday's final.
North Carolina, which had fallen 10 points behind to Vegas' speed, defense and hot shooting, staged the 14 point streak as the Runnin' Rebels suddenly lost their shooting touch and missed eight shots in nine possessions.
By the time Begas started making shots again, Carolina had a 59-55 lead and coach Dean Smith had the Tar Heels in the four corners.
The Tar Heels did not execute as well as they did in their East Regional final win over Kentucky, but when John Kuester sank his faith straight free throw with seven seconds to play, Carolina had an 84-81 lead and was headed to Monday's 8:1' p.m. final against Marquette.
It was obvious almost immediately that Vegas had more dimensions than simply being able to shoot 30-footers with uncanny accuracy.
The Runnin' Rebels secured their 49-43 halftime advantage by improving on the tactics that brought the injured Carolina team to the final tour. Theyplayed better pressure defense, and out rebounded the Tar Heels. By tha end of the half, Carolina was pooped.
The Tar Heels shot better than 50 per cent for the half, but they committed 17 turnovers. Most of the turnovers resulted from Vegas pressure, but a few were simply Carolina mistakes.
Tommy LaGarde, Carolina's 6-foot-10 Olympian, watched the game from a wheelchair four days after surgery on his left knee. Carolina could have used him in the first half.
Larry Moffett, Vegas' 6-9 junior-college transfer, played the biggest role as the Rebels broke a 29-all deadlock with a 10-2 burst.
The outburst came shortly after Carolina coach Dean Smith ordered the Hetls into the four-corner offense. John Kuester, the MVP of the ACC and East Regional tournaments, lost the ball on an unmolested dribble.
Reggie Theus answered with a 22-foot jumper.
Then Phil Ford, playing with his injured right elbow, committed an offensive foul. Rebels turned that turnover into a 10-foot jumper by Moffett.
Smith then gave starting center Rich Yonaker a breather in favor of fellow freshman Steve Krafcisn
Moffett stole a Ford pass, but Vegas failed to score for the first time in six possessions. But then Kraficisin put up an air ball on a free throw, and Moffett quickly scored three straight baskets.
Moffett's streak brought the score to 39-31.
Despite the turnovers, Carolina was able to stay in sight because the type of overplaying defense that Vegas deployed left Walter Davis and Mike O'Koren open when the Rebels failed to come up with a steal.
The two Tar Heel forwards combined for 31 of the team's 43 points in the first half, with Davis 8 for 12 from the field and O'Koren 5 for 5.
Vegas had five players with two free throws for a 63-57 lead. With 7 1/2 minutedeepest shooter of all the Rebels, with 12.
Carolina shot 52.8 per cent for the half of 19 of 36. Vegas hit 54.5 per cent on 44 shots. The Rebels had only six turnovers for the half.
At the start of the second half, it appeared the Rebels would blow out Carolina.
When Sam Smith hit a 23-footer, Vegas' third successful shot in three second-half attempts, the Rebels had a 55-45 lead wiht 18:40 to play.
But North Carolina coinued to play with heart, and suddenly it paid off.
Vegas missed eight straight shots and Carolina run off 14 straight points for a 59-55 lead with 14 minutes to play. Yonaker scored two straight baskets, O'Koren followed by a three point play, Davis hit a jumper and then Ford scored a driving layup.
That sent Carolina into the four-corners delay game. Ford immediately capitalized on a driving layup and then followed with two free throws for a 63-57 lead. With 71/2 minutes to play, Carolina still maintained a six-point advantage 73-67.