Upset Bid Falls Short

LOS ANGELES – No. 4 seed North Carolina played as top-seeded Wisconsin’s equal for the majority of Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup. The Tar Heels, however, were unable to match the Badgers in the final minutes in their 79-72 loss.

With 7:09 to play, UNC led Wisconsin 60-56 and was averaging 1.3 points per possession while shooting 51.1 percent. The Tar Heels had led for over 22 minutes, had led by as many as seven points after halftime and were holding the Badgers to 43.5 percent shooting.

UNC was executing its game plan with precision in its biggest game of the season. Ten Tar Heels had scored and the team had knocked down more 3-pointers (5) than it had committed turnovers (3).

Wisconsin had already made a pair of runs – a 10-1 spurt in the first half and a 6-0 charge several minutes earlier – but UNC had answered both times with heady plays and quality shots.

The Badgers’ third run, which started 27 seconds after Nate Britt hit a pair of free throws to extend UNC’s lead to 60-56, proved too much for UNC to overcome and illustrated why Bo Ryan’s squad earned the No. 1 seed out West.

Frank Kaminsky drilled a 3-pointer over top of UNC’s zone. Zak Showalter scored on a reverse on a pass from Josh Gasser. Showalter forced a turnover by Britt and scored in transition. And then Sam Dekker capped the 9-0 run with a layup to give Wisconsin a 65-60 lead with 5:14 to play.

The Tar Heels failed to regain the lead and the Badgers improved to 33-0 this season when leading with five minutes to play.

“We executed well,” junior guard Marcus Paige told reporters following the loss. “At the end of the day, that shows why Wisconsin won 34 games and why they’re moving on and we’re not. They were able to handle the late-game situation a little bit better. They made big-time shots and we just didn’t make enough.”

After Dekker’s layup to push the Badgers’ lead to five points, freshman wing Justin Jackson drilled a 3-pointer on a designed play out of a UNC timeout. After a defensive stop, Brice Johnson went to the free throw line with an opportunity to tie the game at 65-65, but missed the first before making the second.

A Dekker offensive rebound on the other end led to a Gasser 3-pointer, and despite a pair of late 3-pointers from Paige, the Badgers made the final nine free throws to secure the victory and advance to the Elite Eight.

UNC missed eight of its final 11 field goal attempts to shoot 46.4 percent for the game and 42.9 percent after halftime, breaking a string of nine straight games shooting 50 percent or better in the second half.

The Tar Heels were credited with 10 fast break points and their four turnovers were the lowest in a NCAA Tournament loss in school history. If there was an area where UNC struggled, it was on the defensive glass as the Badgers scored 10 second-chance points off 12 offensive rebounds.

With Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson once again plagued by foul trouble, UNC head coach Roy Williams was forced to go small with J.P. Tokoto manning the 4-spot for significant stretches of time.

“When we went small, that's when they got a bunch of the offensive rebounds and it wasn't that our smaller guys didn't want the ball, it's just you've got to congratulate Wisconsin,” Williams said. “But Justin and Marcus and those other guys, they made some big plays; we just didn't make enough of them.”

Wisconsin entered Thursday’s matchup as the nation’s most efficient team offensively, and that quality was evident in the game’s final minutes as the Badgers scored 14 points over their final eight possessions.

“We wanted to pressure them and not allow them to be comfortable, and we did that for the most part,” Paige said. “The problem was we couldn't finish our defense on key possessions. You know, they got a tip-out or offensive rebound and that's how they made us pay today. They would kick it out and make a three, or run another 35 seconds off the clock.”

Small details – a turnover, missed free throws, an inability to box out on one possession and get a defensive stop on another – prevented the Tar Heels from finishing their upset bid in the Sweet 16.

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