North Carolina and Louisville took parallel paths to the NCAA's sweet 16 today and will meet in the West region semifinals at Houston on Thursday. Both teams took charge on second-half rallies to break out of close games, North Carolina over Alabama-Birmingham, 77-59, and Louisville over Bradley, 82-68.
The Tar Heels had a nice beginning and beautiful ending, but the middle chapters were a mite scary as they held leads of seven to 10 points, not exactly perilous but not very comfortable, either. Especially with foul trouble at hand.
North Carolina's Brad Daugherty sat out almost half the game and replacement Warren Martin eventually fouled out. The third giant, Joe Wolf, came to the rescue.
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith had moved his big guys around while running up a 20-4 lead. UAB fought back and closed within seven. Meanwhile, Daugherty picked up his third foul. Wolf was equal to the task. Maybe because he finally had room to move around inside, which tends to become cluttered with three near-7-footers active. Wolf had 16 rebounds and 10 points.
Kenny Smith and Steve Hale furnished most of the firepower with 17 and 16 points. Daugherty's 13 came mostly at the beginning and end.
Dean Smith said he couldn't remember Kenny Smith ever being in foul trouble (he had four) and "Brad played his fewest minutes in a close game."
UAB Coach Gene Bartow faced the obvious when he said, "Carolina is a very difficult team to get anything going against."
UAB star Steve Mitchell's first two field goals came 16 minutes apart as he made only three of 21 shots and was one for six from the free throw line. "We would have liked to play a slower-paced game, and after we rallied to get within seven in the first half, I hoped we could make a run at the end," Bartow said.
Part of Mitchell's trouble could be found in the defensive work of Kenny Smith and Hale, who kept a hand in his face all game.
With 9 1/2 minutes left, UAB (25-11) closed to seven again, 56-49, but the final script was all North Carolina's as the game dragged out to its inevitable end.
Earlier, Louisville made its crucial move against Bradley with the score 55-all and 9 1/2 minutes left. Bradley (32-3) had the ball and called time out to set up its pet plays. Louisville Coach Denny Crum at that point switched defenses to a box-and-one. Milt Wagner tried to get his feet in Braves guard Jim Les' shoes, so closely did he play defensively.
Disaster was not long in coming. From 59-all, Louisville's Billy Thompson, Wagner and Tony Kimbro led a three-minute, 10-1 surge. A couple more minutes and it was a case of just make your free throws and let the scrubeenies play out the game.
Crum said depth was the crucial factor and singled out the switch to the box-and-one as another. "We know that they like to go to Les, who can really do a lot of things, and we wanted to make sure he couldn't beat us that way."
Les scored 15 points but was not a factor when it counted. Hersey Hawkins had 22 and Mike Williams 17 for the losers, whose Coach Dick Versace said, "Louisville is too deep and we were too impatient on offense, especially after the switch to the box-and-one."
Louisville's scoring was well spread with Wagner and center Pervis Ellison scoring 16 each, Thompson 14 and Jeff Hall 11.
For North Carolina Coach Smith, the reward is a sixth straight trip to the final 16. Naturally, he praised Louisville (28-7) as almost unbeatable; remember this is the same coach who said Utah was the second Duke, before UNC beat the Utes Thursday, 84-72.
Crum said he would be spending a lot of time looking at tapes of North Carolina (28-5) and hoping for the best. The 11,234 fans at Weber State's field house would probably agree that both coaches will have problems.