DETROIT — They made it.
This is right where the North Carolina Tar Heels hoped — or perhaps even expected — to be from the moment this season started.
Saturday's 83-69 Final Four win against Villanova wasn't an ideal performance by any means. Truthfully it was about as disjointed as they come.
Half of it was flowing — full of swishes layups and a big 49 on the scoreboard. The other half? Think hacks blood and bricks. In a word ugly.
But whether it was beautiful or brutal on the surface" the Tar Heels were continually in command of the game that put them on the biggest stage of college basketball — tonight's national championship matchup against Michigan State.
""We're ecstatic"" 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.""
UNC started the game off hot by moving the ball and finding open shooters around the arc as the 'Nova perimeter defense failed to close out.
""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 over-help" said Danny Green, who hit four 3's to score 12 points.
And UNC capitalized on those open looks by going 6-for-11 from downtown in the first half and 11-for-22 during the game.
The Tar Heels combined that marksmanship with Tyler Hansbrough's presence down low. His 18 points and 11 rebounds helped UNC build a 40-23 lead while Villanova struggled from outside. Still, the Wildcats crept back to 49-40 at the half.
And after a basket-filled first 20 minutes, the second half couldn't quite live up.
First UNC let the Wildcats climb to within five, then went on a typical mini-burst with a Green 3-ball and a Ty Lawson layup to go up by 10.
Our ability to come right back at people is pretty impressive"" senior Bobby Frasor said.
After that, missed shots and a choppy pace of play became the norm. In one bizarre sequence, Lawson (22 points, eight assists and seven boards) momentarily played in a nameless No. 25 jersey because his original became stained with blood.
But the key during that time was how the quickly-maturing UNC defense continued to contain the Wildcat guards and maintain a sizable lead. That paid off when Ed Davis converted a three-point play and Lawson nailed a 3-ball to give the Tar Heels a 65-49 advantage with 11:15 to go.
Even then, though, the somewhat fluid play from the first half was nowhere to be seen. Bodies flew, coaches yelled and gestured, and during one stretch both teams raced up and down the court only to miss shots or have them blocked.
It was wild" and I think it was like 4:20 when the eight-minute timeout came" Frasor said, indicating that the media timeout was delayed because play rarely stopped. And that's the first time something ever happened like that.""
With the teams shooting a combined 28.7 percent in the second half" clanks serenaded the quiet and dissipating crowd. The Tar Heels also had a tough time keeping 'Nova off the glass (22 offensive boards allowed) and struggled from the line (22-for-37).
But with the defense holding steady Wayne Ellington managed to shrug off the bricks falling all around him and sink two more 3's in the final 6:56 to keep UNC comfortably ahead. He finished with five 3's 20 points" nine boards and four assists.
""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 spacious 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 an insurmountable 75-57 lead" and although it wasn't the prettiest victory" that certainly didn't stop the Tar Heels from running to the locker room and making plenty of noise as they now sit just one win away from the program's second national title in the last five years.
UNC will get a unique rematch with Michigan State in tonight's final — they beat the Spartans 98-63 on the same floor on Dec. 3 — and Green delivered a slight understatement when asked about being one of only two teams in the country still playing.
""It does feel great. But we kind of want to be the last team standing.""