The No. 8 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run continued on Friday, defeating No. 4 seed UCLA by a score of 73-66 to earn a date in the Elite 8 with No. 15 seed St. Peter’s.
Both teams got off to a hot start in the opening nine minutes of the game and little seemed to separate the two going into the first media timeout. A raucous crowd of fans wearing both shades of blue took turns cheering as the Tar Heels and Bruins exchanged blows. Nine minutes into the contest, UCLA held an 18-14 advantage due to efficient shooting clips and smooth off-ball movement earning the team open shots.
UCLA took momentum for a bit, taking a 22-14 lead, but UNC was back in the game after a run of its own made it a 24-22 Bruins lead heading into the final five minutes of the frame. While the Tar Heels rarely went into a true slump, the Bruins offensive efficiency outpaced North Carolina’s and led to their slight advantage on the scoreboard for much of the first half. The Bruins shot 48 percent from the field in the opening frame compared to the Tar Heels 35 percent.
Despite this, North Carolina went into the break facing just a three-point deficit, with UCLA leading, 31-28.
After UCLA opened up scoring in the second half, North Carolina came back and took its first lead since the game’s opening minutes two minutes into the half. After this short burst, the Bruins regained momentum and its lead. With just under 15 minutes to go, junior forward Armando Bacot picked up his third foul — putting him in foul trouble for the second consecutive game.
Bacot went to the bench and North Carolina went on another run to earn another lead with just over 13:30 to go.
With 10 minutes to go in the second half, it was UCLA 54, UNC 51 and neither side had ever truly held control. As the half went on, sophomore guard Caleb Love’s impact became more and more clear. After scoring just three points in the first half, he had 22 by the 5:00 mark of the second and kept the Tar Heels in the game as first half top-scorer Brady Manek slumped.
Then, Manek broke his slump, burying a three to give North Carolina a 61-60 lead with 4:16 to go.
With 1:03 remaining, Love buried his second three in a row to give UNC a 67-64 lead.The Tar Heels would never give it back. When the final buzzer rang, it was UNC 73, UCLA 66.
Who stood out?
Despite the slow start, Love’s impressive second half kept North Carolina in the game with many of its shooters struggling. The sophomore surpassed his career high points total set last year against Duke.
When was it decided?
Two late threes from Love to tie the game and give UNC the lead, respectively, gave North Carolina the victory. With just over a minute remaining and the Tar Heels in the driver’s seat, Love’s shooting secured the Tar Heels a trip to the Elite 8.
Why does it matter?
In their last two games, the Tar Heels have defeated two Final Four teams from last year. St. Peter’s, UNC’s Elite 8 opponent, has proven it can beat some of the best teams in college basketball — including two teams that defeated the Tar Heels in Kentucky and Purdue. Despite this, North Carolina is favored to win on Sunday and head to New Orleans.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will face St. Peter’s on Sunday for a chance to advance to the Final Four.
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