With 10:37 remaining in the NCAA East Regional final today, North Carolina guard Jimmy Black gave the most feared signal in all of college basketball. Black put up four fingers, and the Tar Heels spread to the extremities of the court.
This time, however, Carolina didn't stall away the game. The Tar Heels scored on 15 straight possessions, including several crafty backdoor layups, to defeat frustrated Villanova, 70-60, at Reynolds Coliseum.
North Carolina's 14th consecutive victory enabled the top-ranked Tar Heels to advance to the final four in New Orleans, where they will play Houston at 3:39 p.m. EST Saturday. Carolina (30-2) improved its regional final record to 8-0. But the Tar Heels never have won the national championship in six previous trips to the final four under Coach Dean Smith.
"It's tough to play from behind against North Carolina because they run that four corners so well," said Villanova center John Pinone. "They've got smart players who are well trained in running it." When Carolina went to the four corners, Villanova remained in its zone and the Tar Heels held the ball for more than a minute before the Wildcats went man to man.
Beginning with all-America James Worthy's jump-hook with 9:08 remaining, Carolina scored at least one free throw each time it had the ball, until the final minute when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Villanova, the Big East Conference regular-season champion, suffered from an extreme case of the jitters in the first five minutes and fell behind, 20-10. The Wildcats (24-8) shot 61 percent in the second half, but could get no closer than five points as the Tar Heels shot 75 percent (15 of 20) in the half.
"Against North Carolina, no matter who the opposition is, the first five minutes are crucial," said Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino. "We had chances to go on six-point spurts, but we just couldn't get over the hump in the first five minutes. I guess it was just the nervousness of the game."
Carolina was again outscored from the field (27-25), but held another huge free-throw advantage, outscoring the Wildcats, 20-6, at the foul line.
All five Carolina starters scored in double figures for the second straight game. But it was the 6-foot-9 Worthy (14 points), who inspired the Tar Heels early with dazzling inside moves.
"This was probably the most emotional game I've ever had," said Worthy, who was visibily excited several times during the game's most tense moments. "I was just very fired up."
Worthy scored two free throws just before Carolina went into the spread offense, which meant the Tar Heels scored on 16 straight possessions overall.
If there was one key play in this game, it was Matt Doherty's three-point play for Carolina with 8:25 to play.
Villanova's Frank Dobbs had just scored two free throws to pull the Wildcats within 43-38. Doherty (13 points) slanted behind a screen to the basket, took one of Black's backdoor passes--Black had 10 assists--and made the layup while being fouled by Wildcat freshman Dwayne McClain. Doherty scored the subsequent free throw and Carolina went ahead, 46-38.
Massimino replayed that sequence continually after the game, because he could see the play developing and had warned his players about it.
"That play is designed for him and we knew it," Massimino said. "The players should have known it. We called it out, but they still made it work. I can't fault Dwayne, though, because he's a freshman."
Forward Ed Pinckney, another freshman, called out to McClain to "watch Doherty" just before Doherty made his cut, but McClain didn't hear him.
Pinckney, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds--both game highs--was outstanding. He made eight of 13 shots and went nose-to-nose against Worthy and Sam Perkins (13 points).
Worthy said that about the only difference between him and Pinckney is experience.
If the rest of the Wildcats played as well as Pinckney and Pinone (14 points), the game might have been closer. Aaron Howard, a good outside shooter and Villanova's best defensive player, was in foul trouble from the beginning and played only 18 minutes.
With Howard on the bench most of the afternoon, the slower Pinone fouled out trying to guard Worthy. Point guard Stewart Granger played poorly. He made two of eight shots and appeared to commit at least twice the number of turnovers that appeared on the final box score (four).
Dwayne McClain missed five of seven shots, and Dobbs missed four of five. Villanova made almost as many turnovers (nine) as it did baskets (10) in the first half. McClain and fellow freshman Gary McLain bumped into each other hard during an especially nervous stretch early in the game.
The Wildcats stayed close by playing hard, aggressive defense, which helped cause Carolina to shoot 41 percent in the first half.
But North Carolina goes into the final four with the nation's longest winning streak.