Villanova and North Carolina won difficult games in the NCAA East Regional basketball semifinals tonight to set up this season's first meeting between schools from the East Coast's two dominant conferences, the Big East and Atlantic Coast.
Villanova (24-7) trailed by three points with 63 seconds left in regulation in the first game, but upset No. 9-ranked Memphis State, 70-66, in overtime with the help of some strange plays by the Metro Conference champions, seeded second in the regional. It was the Wildcats' fourth victory in four overtime games this season; they needed three overtimes to beat Northeastern in the regional's second round.
Top-ranked North Carolina (29-2) was outscored from the field, but had a 26-11 advantage at the foul line, and defeated Alabama, 74-69, in the second game before 12,400 in Reynolds Coliseum.
The regional final is scheduled to start at 12:10 p.m. Sunday. The winner advances to a March 27 national semifinal in New Orleans against the Midwest Regional champion.
"We deserve to be in the final eight," said Villanova center John Pinone, who tied his game with 27 seconds left in regulation and won it by making two free throws with 26 seconds left in overtime. "Now people will know about Villanova. This is no fluke."
Memphis State (24-5) played without its leading scorer and rebounder, freshman Keith Lee, for 17 of the last 25 minutes. Lee had a team-high 14 points, but fouled out with 4:58 to play.
Villanova trailed, 61-58, with 1:03 remaining in regulation. But the Wildcats tied at 62 on a layup by freshman forward Ed Pinckney (16 points, 10 rebounds, seven blocked shots) with 47 seconds left and Pinone's free throws after Tiger guard Otis Jackson had missed the second of two free throws.
The Tigers got the ball after Pinone's free throws and called timeout with 18 seconds left, to set up a last play.
"It was set up for Otis Jackson on a clear out," said Coach Dana Kirk.
But Kirk didn't plan for Jackson to take a shot from clear out in Chapel Hill. Jackson took the inbounds pass and dribbled around for 16 seconds, then took a 28-foot jump shot that bounded off the rim.
"I was looking for the jump shot at the free throw line," Jackson said. "But time ran out on me faster than I expected, and I had to shoot from the outside. I couldn't see the clock because I was under it at midcourt. The clock was tough to read all game due to the glare (of extra lights installed for television cameras)."
Memphis State had a chance to take the lead in the final minute of overtime. With score 66-all, guard Phillip Haynes stole a bad pass by Villanova's Stewart Granger. But, with two Wildcats in close pursuit, he missed a short, off-balance shot.
On the scramble for the rebound, Pinone was fouled by forward Bobby Parks, and made both free throws for a 68-66 lead. Memphis State called time with 19 seconds left, but this time, Haynes committed a walking violation while turning to the baseline for a move to the basket. Granger, who had 10 points, made two free throws for the final margin.
Villanova, Big East regular season titlist but loser to Georgetown in the conference tournament, now faces the Tar Heels in what must be called a home-court advantage for them.
Alabama fans also would argue that North Carolina is the beneficiary of home-court officiating. The Crimison Tide (24-7) was called for 27 fouls; North Carolina for 14.
"We got beat from the foul line, not the field," said forward Eddie Phillips, who fouled out with 5:30 to play after making seven of nine shots for a team-high 16 points.
"We couldn't play like we normally play. When you use all 15 fouls inside on defense, but don't get into the one-and-one in the entire second half, it affects the way you approach the game. We had to play more position defense."
After trailing by as many as eight points in the first half, Alabama tied at 45 with 16:06 left. But Tar Heel all-Americas James Worthy and Sam Perkins scored all their team's points, six on free throws, in a 10-2 streak that gave North Carolina a 63-55 lead with 6:02 remaining.
North Carolina got 16 points from forwards Matt Doherty and Worthy and 15 from Perkins. Guards Jimmy Black and Michael Jordan scored 14 and 11, respectively. Most of those points came from the foul line, where the Tar Heels made 26 of 31.