The Golden Eagles actually won the second half 48-41, shooting 52 percent and holding UNC to 38 percent, but they never created any meaningful suspense due to the immense size of the deficit. Carolina was so effective in the first half that even the lackluster second frame failed to dislodge Roy Williams from near-euphoric descriptions of his team following the game.
“I looked up at the clock and it was 10-8 their favor, and the next time I looked at the clock is when I went off at halftime and it was 40-15,” Williams said. “I knew we were doing very well to say the least.”
Carolina enjoyed a huge size advantage in the game, and Tyler Zeller capitalized most. Zeller has been the team’s best player in the tournament, and his 27 points almost have become the norm. He contributed in some new areas as well, however, amassing 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals.
John Henson added his typical double-double, going for 14 points, 12 rebounds and also five blocks. Perhaps the only asterisk applied to the big guys was that both Zeller and Henson shot less than 50 percent from the floor.
Harrison Barnes suffered through a poor shooting game as well. He converted only 7-for-18 shots en route to 20 points and nine rebounds. The backcourt actually scored more efficiently than usual, as Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland — playing near home in Newark — combined for 6-for-9 shooting and 15 points.
Carolina moved into the Elite 8, out-lasting No. 1 seeds Ohio State, Pittsburgh and, of course, Duke. Williams improved to a remarkable 24-4 in the NCAA Tournament since he arrived in Chapel Hill, and the Heels have won 10 consecutive Sweet 16 contests spanning back to 1993.
Kentucky stands between the Heels and another trip to the Final Four. UNC defeated the Wildcats at home early this season, but both teams have improved substantially since then. Kentucky’s dramatic win over tournament favorite Ohio State last night was one of the most exciting games yet.
Another intriguing aspect of the game is that, if Kentucky wins, former Carolina guard Larry Drew II may be able to beat his chest. Drew was a key factor controlling the speed of UK guard Brandon Knight, and now that assignment likely will fall to Strickland while Marshall will be forced to guard one of Kentucky’s long, athletic wings.
The Tar Heels are slight underdogs based on the early odds, but the game essentially is a 50-50 affair. To view the UNC/MU box score, click here.