Lucas: The 10 Best Second Weekend Wins
We did this last week with the 10 best opening weekend wins. It seems only fair to do it again, but this time, we're listing the 10 best Carolina NCAA Tournament wins from the event's second weekend--in other words, these have to be victories in a regional semifinal or final.
10. March 17, 1967: Carolina 78, Princeton 70 (OT). On the way to Dean Smith's first Final Four appearance, the Tar Heels got 16 points each from Larry Miller and Dick Grubar in an East region semifinal played at Cole Field House.
9. March 19, 1981: Carolina 61, Utah 56. Carolina was the two seed in the West, and was handed the honor of playing its Sweet 16 game in Salt Lake City against third-seeded Utah on the Utes' home court (no word on if Mike Bobinski also chaired that NCAA Tournament Selection Committee). Although Utah had Tom Chambers and Danny Vranes, the Tar Heels got 15 points each from Al Wood, Sam Perkins and James Worthy, plus 11 rebounds from Perkins, on the way to the "road" win.
8. March 29, 2008: Carolina 83, Louisville 73. Louisville has two spots on this list, and so does Rick Pitino. The takeaway of this East regional final, played in Charlotte, was pretty simple--Tyler Hansbrough was more than just a brute inside player. This was the game where he showed a deft perimeter touch, scoring 28 points and grabbing 13 rebounds on the way to an 83-73 win and his first Final Four.
Some highlights, including a pretty vicious Hansbrough follow dunk I had forgotten:
7. March 24, 1991: Carolina 75, Temple 72. It's currently four seasons since the Tar Heels were in the Final Four, and that feels like a very long time. Now imagine that the drought was twice that long. That's the situation Dean Smith was in during the 1990-91 campaign, but the top-seeded Tar Heels eventually navigated their way to the East region final, where they faced 10th-seeded Temple in a bracket that had largely fallen apart (the semifinal opponent had been 12th-seeded Eastern Michigan). Temple was led by Mark Macon, who scored 31 points, but Carolina's balanced attack was too much, and 19 points each from Hubert Davis and Rick Fox propelled Smith and the Tar Heels back into the Final Four.
6. March 25, 2005: Carolina 67, Villanova 66. It's safe to say the Wildcats still remember this one, considering that it was a major Philadelphia storyline prior to last weekend's first-round Tar Heels-Wildcats NCAA Tournament game. This was Carolina's closest call on the way to the 2005 national title. Villanova had a 33-29 halftime lead behind their guard-heavy offense. Then, with the Tar Heels ahead by three and seconds remaining, Allan Ray sank a basket as the whistle blew with nine seconds left. For just a moment, it looked like a potentially game-tying three-point play. But Ray was instead called for traveling, incensing a largely pro-Big East crowd at the Carrier Dome. Rashad McCants hit one out of two free throws to make it a two-possession game and seal the win.
Some bitter, Villanova-oriented game highlights follow (the controversial call is around the 1:10 mark):
5. March 23, 1997: Carolina 97, Louisville 74. In this place for two reasons: the East regional final is Dean Smith's 879th and final win, and because Smith perfectly orchestrated the final minutes. The Tar Heels had blitzed the Cardinals early, building a 54-33 halftime lead and appearing ready to cruise into the Final Four for the first time since 1995. But Louisville closed the gap to three in the second half, and Smith gathered his team and said, "Guys, we've had a great season," appearing to concede that Louisville was just too tough.
"Sometimes you need to confront that this could happen, and then you can do something about it," Smith said after the game. What they did was go on a 22-3 run over the next 6:30 on the way to a 97-74 victory.
4. March 28, 1993: Carolina 75, Cincinnati 68 (OT). Twenty years ago today, Brian Reese had a wide-open dunk to send Carolina to the Final Four...and missed it. That was just one of the memorable plays from a 1-vs-2 showdown in the East regional final at the Meadowlands. The game featured an incredibly hot Nick Van Exel scoring 21 points in the first half, appearing to back up some of his pregame boasts. But Smith moved defensive stopper Derrick Phelps onto Van Exel, and the mouthy guard scored just two points over the second half and overtime. Carolina, meanwhile, got 21 points and 14 rebounds from senior George Lynch, and held the Bearcats scoreless over the final 4:30 of overtime.
Oh, and how much of a master was Smith? After Reese missed the dunk in regulation in what could have been a crushing play, Smith gathered his team in the huddle and told them the following: "We haven't played an overtime all year. We can use this practice."
3. March 15, 1969: Carolina 87, Davidson 85. If you ever wonder why Lefty Driesell seemed so bitter about Carolina, this game--and the performance of Charles Scott--was part of the origin. Scott poured in 32 points, including the game-winner with three seconds remaining after the Tar Heels had milked the final minute to get the last shot. Scott--who was heavily recruited by Driesell to Davidson--scored 22 points in the second half and 12 of his team's final 17.
2. March 17, 1977: Carolina 79, Notre Dame 77. Oh, were we just talking about coaches who are bitter about Carolina? Well, try this one: in 1977, Carolina defeated Notre Dame in an East region semifinal at Cole Field House. The Tar Heels did it with Tommy LaGarde out with a knee injury, Walter Davis playing with a broken finger and with Phil Ford, who scored 29 points in the win, having hyperextended his elbow during the game. Oh, and the game was on St. Patrick's Day.
There's video of this game, which you really need to watch. The sequence is vintage Ford and for those who didn't get to see him play, personifies everything he was about. The injury occurs the first time he hits the floor. Then, playing through the pain, he dives on the floor again for a loose ball (note that the Tar Heels were in a zone on Notre Dame's last possession), then proceeds to hit the game-winning free throws with two seconds remaining. Wow. An absolutely legendary performance.
1. March 25, 1995: Carolina 74, Kentucky 61. This wasn't a close game and didn't have a miraculous last-second shot. Maybe that's exactly why it's so deserving of the top spot on this list. The Southeast regional final was played in Birmingham in front of a largely pro-Wildcat crowd. The top-seeded 'Cats (wearing some truly awful uniforms) were the favorite, and word had reached the Tar Heels that Rick Pitino's team had already reserved a room for its Final Four victory party. As it turned out, they didn't need it. Jerry Stackhouse had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Carolina played one of the best true team performances of the Smith era to get the win.
This video of the game's most famous altercation--a brouhaha between Rasheed Wallace and Andre Riddick--will give you an idea of what a road game it was. Just listen to the Kentucky fans during the discussion of what fouls would be called. By the way, note that the officials watched the replay three times and still gave the flagrant foul to the wrong Wildcat, assessing it to Walter McCarty instead of Riddick.