DETROIT -- Half of it was flowing. Full of swishes lay ups and a big 49 on the scoreboard. The other half? Try hacks blood and bricks. In a word ugly.
The Tar Heels tried a variety of styles on for size on Saturday in the national semifinals against Villanova. But whether it was beautiful or brutal on the surface the result was the same. UNC controlled the game" stifled any Villanova run and maintained a double-digit lead throughout as it cruised to an 83-69 win and booked itself a spot on the ultimate stage of college basketball – Monday night's national championship game.
""We're ecstatic"" UNC coach Roy Williams said. It was an ugly game in the second half. Nobody could make a shot….But we made plays. We're still playing. That's what we wanted to do. Jimmy Valvano's line about survive and advance is what we wanted to do.""
The game didn't start out so sloppily" though. After a listless first few minutes the Tar Heels hit that offensive grove they've been riding for much of the tournament.
With ‘Nova playing aggressive defense on the perimeter UNC was often able to move the ball find open shooters outside.
That trend was never more evident than when Danny Green got the ball at the top of the key and was harassed by multiple Villanova defenders. As he passed to the ball to Lawson on the wing" the entire defense shifted. Lawson merely returned the ball to Green at the top of the key – now wiiiiidee open - for the triple.
""We didn't know exactly what they were going to do defensively. But it seemed like on screens on the ball they were trying to double or overhelp"" Green said. And make sure that the guards had to give up the ball and make our bigs make a play.""
And when UNC got those open looks they capitalized" going 6 for 11 from downtown in the first half and 11 for 22 during the game.
The Tar Heels used that marksmanship and a generally efficient offensive flow to build a 40-23 lead while Villanova struggled from the outside. But like many times this season when they've gone up by large margins they allowed the Wildcats to creep back into it with a little spurt to close the half at 49-40.
After an offensive-minded first 20 minutes the second half looked like something out of your dad's weekly pickup game with those old fogies.
First UNC let the Wildcats climb to within five only to have Green nail a 3 and Lawson convert a layup to get the lead back to ten.
After that missed shots fouls and a choppy pace of play became the norm. At one point Lawson came out on the court in a nameless No. 25 jersey after his original became stained with blood.
Still during that time UNC was consistent enough on defense to keep the score where it was. And when Ed Davis finally converted a three-point play down low and Lawson nailed another 3-ball the Tar Heels had a comfortable 65-49 lead with 11:15 to go.
But even then the basketball gods refused to grant the spectators at Ford Field any semblance of fluid play. At one point both teams raced up and down the court only to either miss layups or have them blocked. Bodies flew coaches yelled and gestured and although Villanova's physical style of play thrives on contact" that didn't put the ball in the hoop.
""Ty would go down for a layup" we'd have three guys back who didn't make it across half court. He missed the layup they'd came down they'd miss a shot. Ty's running back at them Bobby Frasor said.
Their coach had to call a timeout finally because we scored. Our guys were even tired and Coach Williams said" ‘Imagine how tired they are. We're the ones scoring.' It was wild and I think it was like 4:20 when the eight-minute time out came and that's the first time something ever happened like that.""
Instead of using their quickness to create matchup problems" the Wildcats continued to hoist from long range (5 for 27 for the game). With the teams going a combined 19 for 67 (28.3 percent) in the second half and a microphone attached to the rim the clanks filled the empty air as the rapidly disappearing crowd stayed mum.
And free throws? UNC called dibs on those shanking 11 of 22 during the second half.
But amid the chaos Wayne Ellington somehow shrugged off the bricks falling all around him to sink two more long balls to keep the Tar Heels comfortably ahead for the remainder of the game. He hit five 3s for the game and finished with 20 points" nine rebounds and four assists.
""It's a stage" it's a stage. When you're a basketball player this is where you want to be Ellington said when asked about playing well again at the enormous Ford Field. You want to be in front of everybody" everybody's watching. And you want to perform.""
Ellington's last triple gave his team a 75-57 lead" and UNC continued to stop ‘Nova on the defensive end to sew up the win. And while it wasn't the prettiest victory" that certainly didn't stop the Tar Heels from whooping it up in the locker room after the game.
Green said UNC's problems (59.5 percent free throw shooting and 22 offensive rebounds allowed) were easy fixes for Monday's rematch with Michigan State for the title. He was also asked how it felt to be one of two teams in the country still alive.
""It does feel great. But we kind of want to be the last team standing.""
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