Tar Heels being rewarded for perseverance

As frustrating as last season was for North Carolina coach Roy Williams, falling into the NIT a year after winning the 2009 national title, this campaign is becoming one of his most rewarding.

"Well, you know, last year was very difficult, the most difficult professional year of my career, and then the offseason was just about as bad," Williams said after the Tar Heels advanced to a record 24th NCAA regional appearance by hanging on to beat Washington 86-83.

"Except for January 1, 2010, when our grandson was born, it wasn't a very good year. Little boy was there today and I got to wave at him before practice and before the game.

"But this team has handled a lot of adversity."

That adversity started in the offseason when twins David and Travis Wear announced in May they were leaving the program, seriously depleting the Tar Heels' depth up front.

During the season, guard Larry Drew II quit the team about two weeks after losing his starting position to freshman Kendall Marshall.

But the Tar Heels persevered, won the regular-season ACC title, and now will meet Marquette, a 66-62 winner over Syracuse, in an NCAA East Region semifinal.

The winner will play the winner of the other semifinal matching Ohio State and Kentucky for a berth in the Final Four.

"It feels fantastic, but I'm old fashioned," Williams said of being one of 16 teams still alive in the tournament. "I'm corny.

"It's the greatest part of today's game was those kids waiting for me in the locker room and the looks on their faces. That's what we all coach for."

NOTES, QUOTES

--North Carolina is in a region semifinal for the 31st time and the 24th time since 1975, when the tournament first went to 32 teams and required all teams to play at least one game before moving into the Sweet 16. (Before then, the ACC was among those leagues getting their champion seeded directly into a region semifinal.)

--There's nothing like some home cooking for the Tar Heels. Although rules now prevent teams from playing on their home floor in NCAA play, the Tar Heels were able to play their first two games in nearby Charlotte. Their two wins made them 29-1 in NCAA tourney games played in the state (25 in a row). The lone loss was in 1979 to Penn in a second-round game played in Raleigh.

COACH: Roy Williams, eight years at North Carolina, eighth year in the postseason (seven NCAA).

KEYS TO VICTORY: The Tar Heels must keep getting the ball inside to Tyler Zeller and John Henson to open up things for freshman F Harrison Barnes to drive or shoot perimeter jumpers. They also must take care of the basketball against a Marquette defense that likes to turn the other team's mistakes into quick points. The Tar Heels had only nine turnovers in the three-point win over Washington but had twice that number in the opener against Long Island.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "John is a very mischievous 11-year-old who happens to be about 20." -- Coach Roy Williams, on the precociousness of sophomore F John Henson.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL GAME PREVIEW:

vs. Marquette, March 25, NCAA Tournament regional semifinal.

KEY MATCHUPS: The Tar Heels must find someone to contain Marquette G Darius Johnson-Odom, who showed an ability to drive for points or shoot the three in the win over Syracuse (17 points on 7-for-15 shooting, 3 of 7 on treys). G/F Jimmy Butler also can hit the three on occasion, but he averages under two attempts per game. F Harrison Barnes, who is turning into North Carolina's most reliable three-point threat, could be a matchup problem for the Golden Eagles.

SCOUTING REPORT: North Carolina, 16-2 since freshman Kendall Marshall took over at point guard, will find an opponent willing to play a fast-paced game when it takes on Marquette. The Golden Eagles like to get points off their defense. They force their opponents into two turnovers more a game than they commit. The Tar Heels look to have an advantage inside with 7-0 F Tyler Zeller and 6-10 John Henson. Henson could take away Marquette's inside game with his shot-blocking ability (10 in two tournament games).

PLAYER NOTES

--Freshman PG Kendall Marshall had 13 points and 14 assists in the win over Washington. That's an NCAA tourney record in assists for a Tar Heel player, topping the 12 Kenny Smith had in 1987. Marshall had 10 assists in the opening win over Long Island.

--Sophomore F John Henson has recorded eight consecutive double-doubles in points and rebounds.

--Junior F Tyler Zeller led Carolina in scoring with 55 points on 17 of 28 shooting from the field. He was 21 of 26 from the free throw line in the two wins.

--Freshman F Harrison Barnes was 9-for-19 from the field in each of the two games but was 4-for-7 on three-point attempts against Washington after going only 2 of7 against Long Island. He had 46 points in the two games.


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