Williams Laments Loss

SAN ANTONIO — Roy Williams couldn't hold back the tears after his North Carolina Tar Heels lost to Kansas, 84-66, in the Final Four on Saturday night at the Alamodome.

“I told (the players in the locker room) one of the most inadequate feelings as a coach is what to say at a moment like this that can help them, can remove any of the hurt, that can give something to grab on to,” Williams said at his emotional postgame press conference. “I congratulated them on a great year. I thanked them for a being great student-athletes to coach. I apologized to them because in some way, somehow, I didn’t have our team ready to play as well as Bill (Self) did. That’s not easy to say.”

North Carolina certainly didn’t come out ready to start the game. The Tar Heels were overwhelmed by KU’s defensive pressure, and turned the ball over 10 times the first half. UNC was down 40-12 with over six minutes remaining in the half before rallying to cut KU’s lead to 17 (44-27) at halftime.

“Early in the game, they were much more aggressive than we were,” Williams said. “We sort of came out a little more casual that we’d like to. They hit us right between the eyes. We probably rushed things a little bit. They just kept hammering. They were really something early.”

Williams relayed to the media what he told his players during a timeout late in the first half.

“You can make fun of this if you wish, but (I told them), ‘What the doctors and scientists do that are trying to get find a cure for cancer, they get hit right in the mouth every day because it’s not there, but they keep going back to work to try to do it again the next day,’” Williams said. “I’m so daggum corny, I used that with my team. I said, ‘Hey, we don’t want those guys to give up. You can’t drop your head and say, ‘Woe is me. We’ve got to keep playing. You have to continue trying to do the absolute best you can do.’”

North Carolina kept fighting and wound up cutting the lead to 54-50 with 11:15 remaining. The Tar Heels were down by eight points (69-61) at the 4:55 mark before KU went on a 13-0 run to put the game away.

Williams was proud of how his team stormed back, though the Tar Heels just didn’t have enough gas to get over the hump.

“I guess it’s a little like that story tale about the little engine that spent so much trying to get up the hill, it didn’t have anything left when it got to the top,” Williams said.

UNC shot a season-low 35.8 percent from the field and its 27 first-half points were its fewest in a half this season. The 17-point halftime deficit was the largest faced by ‘Carolina this season, and its 66 points tied for fewest of the 2007-08 campaign. The Tar Heels were also outscored 50 to 30 in the paint.

And UNC had no answer for Brandon Rush, who scored a game-high 25 points. Williams gushed over Rush and the entire Jayhawks’ team.

“I thought Brandon was sensational,” he said. “A month ago I made the statement, I thought Kansas had the best team, tremendously quick, tremendous athletes who are very unselfish, who can score at every position, who can defend at every position. I said a month ago they have no holes. ... Brandon, Darnell (Jackson), I said congratulations to them, told them good luck on Monday night, to play their tails off (against Memphis in the title game).”

After his press conference, Williams did a brief interview with a Kansas City TV station before hopping in the golf cart to be wheeled back to the locker room. As the golf cart began moving, Williams told a reporter he’d be sticking around San Antonio on Monday night to watch the school he coached for 15 years.

Williams, no doubt, will be playing the loss to Kansas over in his mind on Monday. He said his Tar Heels didn’t execute, largely because of KU’s great defense.

“We talked about we can’t take quick shots, and we took quick shots,” he said. “We talked about that you have to be strong with the ball. We let them take it away from us twice, just reach in and take the ball. We talked about coming to meet the pass. We threw it to one of our post players inside. He just stood there. The (KU) guy came came to meet it more than he did and got the ball. We said you can’t dribble between two perimeter players because they do a great job of getting back, getting their hands involved. We did that twice and lost it.

“We said if you’re a post player, you have one dribble, that’s it. Second or third play of the game, we have a post player that dribbles in the second time, third time they’re taking in the other end. Defensively, they’re marvelous athletes. If it were an athletic contest, it would not have been as close as it was. ... We’re the No. 1 rebounding team in the nation, rebound margin. They outrebounded us by nine (42-33). They (are) just a fantastic club. Bill does a great, great job with them.”

Despite the bitter loss, Williams was extremely proud of what his team accomplished this season.

“Their dreams were bigger than this and it hurts a great deal now,” Williams said. “Bill’s team won the game. The other coach was the winner. But I love my kids. I love the road and journey they took me on, winning 36 games (school record), the ACE regular season and the ACE tournament and the (NCAA East) regional. This bunch did some great, great things.”

“I think Roy Williams is one of the luckiest guys the world,” he added. “This team was really a special team. We had no issues. We had no problems. They were great kids. It was just a fun, fun group to coach. And in some ways, that makes it hurt even more because they are such good kids. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anybody.”

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