Purging the Past

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the past 369 days, motivation for top-seeded North Carolina could be epitomized with the mere whisper of just one word – Georgetown. The Tar Heels have returned to the Elite Eight, and now must face an equally challenging opponent in Louisville to erase the Hoya torment and reach their 17th Final Four.

The following statistic is not for the squeamish – a 4.5 field goal percentage. And no, that's not a misprint. That equates to 1-of-22 shooting, a stretch that allowed Georgetown to overcome an 11-point second-half deficit in the 2007 East Regional final and steal a Final Four berth from North Carolina's clutches in overtime.

Head coach Roy Williams and his Tar Heels have been peppered with questions surrounding that collapse for the past 12 months. And they have answered those inquiries with their play on the court this season, whether it's setting a school-record with 35 wins, or posting an 8-1 record in games decided by five points or less or in overtime.

North Carolina has plowed through their preseason goals with an exacting precision, winning the ACC Regular Season Championship outright before claiming their 17th ACC Tournament Championship.

"I think we're more mature," Williams said when comparing this team to last season's squad. "We're more experienced… The experience has been worth something to us. We played several close games this year and this team has been very, very tough."

But regardless of what these players have accomplished thus far, this season will largely be defined on Saturday night's outcome.

Wayne Ellington indicated last week that failing to get to the Final Four would be a disappointment for North Carolina, and he suggested on Friday that there's even more work to do if the Tar Heels are able to slip past the Cardinals.

"We've all been to this point already in our careers here at North Carolina," Ellington said. "We know what it feels like to be here. The only people that have been past this point are Coach Williams and Quentin [Thomas]. We don't know what it feels like, so we're going to stay hungry and we're not satisfied until we get past this point… Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship."

But the Tar Heels also understand that what happened against Georgetown in East Rutherford, N.J. last March has no bearing on the game Saturday night against Louisville, which presents their toughest test in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

While North Carolina has demolished any foe that has stood in its path, blowing out all three opponents – Mount. St. Mary's, Arkansas and Washington State – by an average of 30.3 points, Louisville has nearly replicated the Tar Heels' success through three rounds, defeating their opponent by an average of 22.3 points.

"We can play really, really well, and not win," Williams said.

With two programs as evenly matched as Louisville and North Carolina, the homecourt advantage the Tar Heels possess by playing in Charlotte – which has been blown out of proportion by the national media – may be the deciding factor in determining who claims the East Region's Final Four berth.

North Carolina is 24-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in its home state, including an 8-0 record in the Queen City.

"No, I don't think there's a homecourt advantage," Pitino said in jest. "I think those are mostly mannequins dressed in powder blue. But I say this in all honesty, there is a very strong homecourt advantage, but they deserve it."

But Pitino knows a thing or two about playing a NCAA Regional in Charlotte, N.C. In 1993, his Kentucky Wildcats decimated Wake Forest (103-69) and Florida State (106-81) en route to the Final Four.

Louisville's full court press frustrated Tennessee on Thursday night to the tune 17 turnovers and only 12 assists for the Volunteers. But with a defensive style eerily similar to that of the Clemson Tigers, Ellington may hold the key for Tar Heels desiring to book their flights to San Antonio.

The sophomore guard averaged 29.3 points on 55.6 percent shooting (30-of-54) in three games – all victories – against Clemson.

"When you run a press, guys are so worried about getting in the passing lanes, getting steals and making us turn the ball over," Ellington said. "And when Tywon [Lawson] breaks it, they sort of forget about our wings. All I do is get down court and Tywon does a good job finding me, and I get some easy shots out of it."

And while North Carolina is a year removed from that infamous Georgetown loss, the players are banking on that motivation to lift them to their first Final Four since 2005.

Inside Carolina Top Stories