Tar Heel Tennis To Host NCAA Tourney Openers

The Tar Heel men’s and women’s tennis teams found out their NCAA Tournament fates Tuesday evening.

For the 13th time in the last 14 seasons, the women will host a home regional – this time as the No. 2 national seed.

Head coach Brian Kalbas’ Tar Heels dropped their first match of the season last weekend in the ACC Tournament and will look to rebound in their NCAA Tournament opener May 9 against Quinnipiac, the MAAC champions.

Should UNC prevail in the opening match, it will face the winner of the contest between William & Mary and Dartmouth the following day.

As for the men’s tennis squad, they’ve been handed a No. 13 seed nationally and will also be hosting here in Chapel Hill May 8. Meeting the Tar Heels in their regional will be William & Mary, Mississippi State and Denver.

For the complete women’s bracket, click here.

For the complete men’s bracket, click here.


Oakes’ Outlook: Final Four ‘Breakfast Club’

We’re at the ultimate destination of the college hoops season. The Final Four. With all its mystique, tradition, unforgettable moments and hype, it rarely disappoints.

I don’t think we need to worry about a letdown in 2015 either. Out of the vast array of possible permutations and calculations, the bracketology gods have delivered us a shining gem.

You say it’s the stars on these rosters – Jahlil Okafor at Duke. The freshman sensation plays a brand of offense rarely seen in the history of the sport. He gets two feet in the paint and it’s lights out – basket. It’s as automatic as the rising sun.

Not to mention, we’ve got the National Player of the Year frontrunner – Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The guy plays with a versatility that has opposing coaches scratching their heads. In Kaminsky, you have a physical seven-footer who can even pop threes. Not to mention, he’s as tough as nails and cool under pressure. The higher the stakes, the better he plays. Now that’s the total package.

Oh yeah, but we haven’t even mentioned the brightest star of all. The Kentucky Wildcats, collectively, have eight of the best players in all of college basketball on one roster. The platoon system hasn’t got as much play as we thought at the beginning of the year, but man, the Wildcats could make a run to the Final Four with two separate teams. No joke. It’s an embarrassment of riches led by Willie Cauley-Stein. Length, athleticism, poise, speed. Yikes!

And we’re not even scratching the surface to the immeasurable talent that will be on display at the Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.

But whoa! Hold your horses. Who’s holding the reigns to these thoroughbred athletes? You got it.

Good coaches get good players and in turn, coach those good players to big wins. This game’s not a mystery, folks.

And so, it should come as no huge surprise we’ve got four coaching legends ready to wage battle this weekend in Indianapolis on the game’s grandest stage.

It’s what has me most intrigued about this Final Four – the coaching matchups. The common thread is success at the highest level. But there’s no one set prototype for the man it takes to achieve that success. You need look no further than this year’s quartet to validate that claim. It’s “Breakfast Club: Pt. II”:

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Bo Ryan (WISC) AKA ‘The Teacher’ – This isn’t Bo’s first rodeo. The guy’s been around the block. But frankly, I’ve always thought he’s never got the credit he deserved. He’s been racking up significant victories since 2001 at Wisconsin. But back-to-back Final Fours last year and now this season have him in the national spotlight. But Bo isn’t in this business for the spotlight like some of his peers. Bo’s more of a throwback. He merely likes to coach, or should I say ‘teach’, his kids. The basketball court becomes a classroom for Bo. And wow, his students are ALWAYS prepared for their exams. He’s always had air-tight, disciplined teams who A) don’t turn the ball over and B) take intelligent, high-percentage shots. That’s a good combo. And now that he’s secured the offensive firepower to go along with his trademark teachings, the sky’s the limit for Bo’s Badgers.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

John Calipari (UK) AKA ‘The Recruiter’ – We all know about this guy. Love him or hate him, get used to him. Now that he’s at Kentucky – the nation’s premier job – he’s not going anywhere? And why should he? Even before he got the name brand to go along with it, Calipari has always stockpiled talent like he’s preparing for the apocalypse. He took Memphis to the Final Four for crying out loud. Anybody heard of Memphis lately? Calipari has single-handedly transformed the landscape of college basketball. It’s like an arms race now, except UK is the USA – that’s trouble for everybody else. Each year, Calipari promises young high school kids an irresistible deal – come to one of the best college basketball programs in the land, play for the best fan base in the country, win a national championship and then ink your multi-million dollar deal in the NBA. Who would be dumb enough to turn that down? Not to mention, Coach Cal is a charismatic closer who connects with kids in this business – he knows what makes them tick…pop culture, fame, winning and money.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) AKA ‘The General’ – Coach K needs no introduction. He’s built a program into national prominence, so much so, that Duke basketball has become synonymous with college hoops excellence. They are the standard. Year in. Year out. Coach K is the reason why. Schooled by Bob Knight in his time at Army, Coach K learned how to run a tight ship. He’s demanding. He controls Cameron Indoor – his players, his staff, his fans and some would say, even the officials, with a strategic whip. Each game, he enters the arena with a brisk, methodical march that indicates he’s ready for battle. But in the process, he has earned the respect of his peers and players. He accepts only one thing – winning. Losing is not an option. You do as he says. His players have no problem following his orders. Why? They want to win too. They know K prepares his troops for battle better than anybody. Yes, K has changed a bit – he’s started to adopt Coach Cal’s ‘one-and-done’ model. He’s even been using a lot more zone defense. I know these things must have pained him. But if the rules change to the game, you have to adapt to win. K loves to win.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Tom Izzo (MSU) AKA ‘The Boxer’ – Izzo’s like Rocky. Everybody seems to love the guy for his big heart and his relentless fighting spirit. He doesn’t have the talent like most of his competitors, but yet he finds a way to squeeze the most out of what he’s got. That’s admirable. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always pulled for Izzo. The true underdog that really shouldn’t ever be an underdog in the first place. Izzo sports a remarkable 13-9 record in the NCAA Tournament with the lower seeded team – that’s a record. It’s hard to quantify the intangibles. Izzo’s teams always have plenty of that – heart, pride and toughness in spades. Sometimes, I feel like Izzo could coach anybody, and I mean anybody to the Final Four. He makes young men believe. Truly believe. That’s half the battle right there. I had a coach who told me competition is 80% mental and just 20% talent. Izzo no doubt prescribes to that doctrine. Backed into the corner with his kids? No problem. That’s where they like it. Izzo and company will come out swinging, and you can bet they’ll get their money’s worth this weekend.

So this year, the Final Four has gone to the coaches starring in a stirring sequel to “The Breakfast Club”. I’m not complaining. I can hear the iconic ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ running through my head now. Enjoy it. In an age of college basketball dominated by ‘one-and-dones’ and NBA talk, it’s refreshing to see it’s the coaches – a teacher, a recruiter, a boxer and a general – who’ll take center stage again.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattdoakes


Duke Legend Talks Final Four

The UNC basketball team fell to Wisconsin in this year’s Sweet 16 – but Duke is still alive, set to face Michigan State on Saturday night in Indianapolis.

It’s the Blue Devils’ sixteenth trip to the Final Four (and Mike Krzyzewski’s twelfth, tying John Wooden’s record). How has the game changed since Duke’s first trip back in 1963? What are the players likely thinking as they get ready for their first appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage? And what are Duke’s chances this year, against high-profile programs like MSU, Wisconsin and Kentucky?

Steve Vacendak is a Duke legend: playing under Vic Bubas in the 1960s, Vacendak led the Blue Devils to two Final Fours and won ACC Player of the Year honors in 1966. He went on to play in the ABA before returning to the college ranks to serve as Duke’s associate athletic director and head coach at Winthrop.

Vacendak spoke Friday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Duke and Michigan State tip off at 6:09 Saturday. Kentucky and Wisconsin follow, with tip-off set for approximately 8:49; the winners meet on Monday in the national title game.

(Aaron, who grew up in Spartan country, will be rooting for State and Wisconsin while superstitiously avoiding any and all TV screens.)


Roy Williams Adding “Fuel” To 2016 Final Four Push

The North Carolina men’s basketball team couldn’t progress past the Sweet Sixteen in an up-and-down season that ultimately ended short of its hopeful final destination – Indianapolis for the Final Four. But with nearly every key player likely to return for next season, optimism reigns here in Chapel Hill.

***Listen to the story***

It’s both the tragedy and the thrill of March Madness. The single elimination format leaves no room for error. The realization that accompanies the finality of the end of a journey and with it, the pursuit of a national championship, can be hard to come to grips with – even for Roy Williams.

Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige should be returning for another shot in 2016

Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige should be returning for another shot in 2016

“The most difficult time as a coach is what to say to the kids after the last game when you lose. I feel so inadequate because there’s nothing I can say that will erase what just happened. There’s nothing I can say to make it go away. It’s not like golf – you don’t get a mulligan or anything like that,” Coach Williams says.

There’s an ultra-fine line between winning and losing – the Tar Heels know that all too well.

For the majority of their postseason contest with Notre Dame in the ACC championship game and their Sweet Sixteen showdown with Wisconsin, the Tar Heels seemingly were in control. But the rug was pulled out from under them with ruthless intention in the waning moments.

“The last three weeks, we played pretty good basketball. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to play by any means, but we played pretty good basketball. In the Notre Dame game, you take away three minutes, we win the ACC Tournament. In the Wisconsin game, you take away three minutes, we win that game,” Coach Williams says.

The sting of defeat can motivate. Coach Williams says he hopes Carolina can parlay the disappointment into a determined effort in summer workouts.

“I hope it hurts our guys as much as it does me. If it does that, we’ll work our butts off this summer, I can tell you that,” Coach Williams says.

The 2014-2015 Tar Heels finished their campaign with a 26-12 record that included an 8-3 mark on neutral courts.

But for UNC’s lofty standards, that’s nothing special. But that hasn’t dulled Coach Williams’ close-knit relationship with his players.

“I did enjoy this team. We didn’t have any knuckleheads. There was always one being a knucklehead, but it wasn’t a team full of knuckleheads. I enjoyed being with them. They’re really good kids. I have two grandsons. Everybody on my team I could say, ‘Watch these two little boys; I’ll be back in two hours.’ I would feel really comfortable,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams will begin his end-of-year one-on-one meetings with his players Wednesday. He’s crossing his fingers for no surprises.

Carolina will hope to celebrate more often next year (UNC Athletics)

Carolina will hope to be celebrating more often next year (UNC Athletics)

For the first time ever under Coach Williams, the coaching staff reviewed the game film with the entire team, of an NCAA Tournament loss.

That film session had a distinct purpose.

“I’m going to try to use that as fuel and make them hungrier to work even harder this summer – to show them one play here or a second play here, and we could be going to Indianapolis,” Coach Williams says.

With that extra “fuel” and yes, barring any unforeseen departures a la James Michael McAdoo in 2014, the Tar Heels should be locked and loaded for a legitimate run at the ACC title and a trip to Houston for the Final Four in 2016.


End-of-season notes from Steve Kirschner, UNC Athletics

• CAROLINA’s season ends at 26-12 overall and 8-3 on neutral courts.
• CAROLINA is 112-44 in 156 NCAA Tournament games. The 112 wins are second most all-time behind Kentucky.
• CAROLINA lost for the first time in the Sweet 16 since 1992. UNC had won its previous 11 Sweet 16 games since losing to Ohio State. Traevon Jackson scored four points tonight for the Badgers; in 1992, his father, Jim, had 18 points for the Buckeyes in Ohio State’s Sweet 16 win over UNC in Lexington, Ky.
• CAROLINA played 22 of its 37 games this season against NCAA Tournament teams and went 11-11 in those 22 games.
• CAROLINA is 25-7 in regional semifinal games.
• CAROLINA is 4-2 in NCAA Tournament history as a #4 seed.
• CAROLINA is 11-6 in West Regional games. The Tar Heels have reached the Final Four once in six appearances in the West Regional (1981).
• CAROLINA is 13-8 in California, including 2-3 in NCAA Tournament games and 5-6 in Los Angeles.
• CAROLINA is 7-5 in the NCAA Tournament against #1 seeds.
• CAROLINA is 2-1 against Wisconsin, including 1-1 in the NCAA Tournament (beat the Badgers in the 2005 East final in Syracuse).
• CAROLINA is 13-6 against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. The loss to Wisconsin snapped a five-game win streak for UNC against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament.
• ROY WILLIAMS is 750-202 in 27 seasons as a head coach and 332-101 in 12 seasons at North Carolina. His winning percentage of .788 is the sixth highest in college basketball history and first among active coaches with at least 20 years experience.
• ROY WILLIAMS is 31-9 (.775) in 25 NCAA Tournament appearances. He is tied for sixth in appearances, third in games (88) and tied with Dean Smith for second in wins (65).
• ROY WILLIAMS is 11-5 in Sweet 16 games, including 6-1 at UNC.
• CAROLINA lost for the fifth time this year when leading at the half. The Tar Heels led the Badgers, 33-31, at halftime, and Wisconsin overcame a seven-point deficit in the second half to win. UNC went 22-5 this year when leading at intermission. The losses came to Butler, at Louisville, Virginia, at home to Duke and Wisconsin.
• CAROLINA shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, but only 42.9 percent in the second half. That was the first time in the last 10 games UNC failed to shoot 50 percent in the second half.
• CAROLINA shot 50 percent or better in eight of its last 11 halves dating back to the second half of the ACC quarterfinal win over Louisville.
• CAROLINA lost for just the second time this year in a game in which it made more three-point field goals than the opponents. UNC was 8 for 13 from three-point range, while Wisconsin was 7 for 21. The only other loss when UNC made more threes was against Iowa (UNC made four and the Hawkeyes made three on 12/3/14).
• WISCONSIN out-rebounded the Tar Heels by seven (35-28). That was the largest rebounding deficit since Iowa out-rebounded UNC, 42-26, on 12/3. Carolina was 23-7 this year when it had more rebounds and 2-4 when the opponents had more rebounds.
• CAROLINA committed only four turnovers and the Badgers committed five. By comparison, the Tar Heels and Arkansas combined for 37 in UNC’s previous game.
• The nine turnovers matched the fewest in a UNC game this season. UNC and Pitt also combined for nine on 2/14.
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers matched the fewest by UNC in Roy Williams’ 12 seasons as head coach (at Pitt, 2/14/15).
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers were the second-fewest in UNC’s 156 NCAA Tournament games. The only game UNC committed fewer was in the 1997 first round against Fairfield when the Tar Heels made a school-record two turnovers.
• CAROLINA’s four turnovers were the fewest in UNC’s 44 losses in NCAA Tournament history. The previous low for turnovers in a loss was seven against San Francisco in 1978.
• WISCONSIN’s five turnovers equal the fewest by an opponent in UNC’s 156-game NCAA Tournament history. Michigan State (1998 regional semifinal) and Auburn (1985 regional semifinal) also committed five.
• CAROLINA shot 61.5 percent from three-point range (making 8 of 13). That is the highest three-point percentage by UNC in an NCAA Tournament loss in school history. The previous best in a loss was .438 vs. Michigan (5 of 11) in the 1989 regional semifinal.
• MARCUS PAIGE made three three-point field goals. He finished the season with 94 3FGs, second-most in UNC single-season history, one behind Shammond Williams’s 95 in 1996-97.
• PAIGE has made 225 career three-pointers and is third in UNC history behind Shammond Williams (233) and Wayne Ellington (229). Only Ellington made more in three seasons.
• PAIGE has attempted 590 three-pointers in his career. That is more than any other Tar Heel. Shammond Williams was the previous record-holder with 578.
• PAIGE is 275 for 318 from the free throw line in his career. His percentage of .865 is the highest in Carolina history and the sixth-best in ACC history. Shammond Williams is second in UNC history at .849.
• PAIGE went 96 for 111 from the free throw line this season, a percentage of .865 that is the seventh-best single-season mark in UNC history for players with at least 75 makes (he shot the third-best percentage, .877, last year). He is the only Tar Heel in history to post two of the top 10 best seasons in free throw percentages.
• PAIGE scored 12 points against Wisconsin, the 30th time this season he scored in double figures. He made three 3FGs, the 41st time in 107 games he has done that.
• JUSTIN JACKSON shared team-scoring honors vs. the Badgers with 15 points. It was the 22nd time this year he scored in double figures, including 11 of the last 12 games.
• JACKSON led UNC in scoring for the sixth time this season – three of those six games came in the postseason (22 vs. Virginia in the ACC semifinals, 14 vs. Harvard in the NCAA Tournament and 15 vs. Wisconsin). He averaged 15.0 points in UNC’s three NCAA Tournament games and shot 17 for 32 from the floor (.531).
• JACKSON went three for three vs. Wisconsin from three-point range. That was the second time this season  – and second time in the last five games – that he made at least three from beyond the arc. He made a season-high four vs. Virginia on 3/13.
• JACKSON made two three-pointers three times in UNC’s first 27 games and at least two 3FGs in six of the last 11 contests.
• BRICE JOHNSON also shared UNC scoring honors with 15 points on 7 of 9 field goal attempts. It was his 26th game this year scoring in double figures. He scored more points vs. Wisconsin (15) than he did in the previous two NCAA games combined (seven vs. both Harvard and Arkansas).
• NATE BRITT went 2 for 2 from the free throw line. He finished the season 60 for 68 from the line (.882).  That is the second-highest single-season free throw percentage in UNC history for players with at least 60 made free throws. (Shammond Williams shot .911 in 1997-98, 133 for 146).
• BRITT is 114 for 136 in his career, a percentage of .838 that is sixth best in UNC history for players with at least 100 made free throws.
• J.P. TOKOTO was one of four Tar Heels with a team-high three assists. It was the 20th time this year Tokoto led outright or shared team honors in assists.
• ISAIAH HICKS led UNC with six rebounds. It was the first time in his career Hicks led the Tar Heels in rebounds.
• JOEL BERRY II had nine points, three assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes. It was his second-highest scoring game of the season (15 at Georgia Tech).
• WISCONSIN went 20 for 23 from the free throw line, while the Tar Heels made 12 of 18 from the line. That was the 10th time in the last 13 games the opponents attempted more free throws than UNC. The opponents attempted 68 more free throws than UNC over those 13 games and made 49 more from the line.
• WISCONSIN shot 87.0 percent from the free throw line. The Badgers were the fifth consecutive opponents in the postseason to shoot 80 percent or better from the free throw line (.800 by Virginia, .875 by Notre Dame, .900 by Harvard, .815 by Arkansas and .870 by Arkansas). Those five opponents combined to make 104 of 122 from the line for 85.2 percent.
• CAROLINA finished the season attempting 814 free throws; the opponents attempted 843. This is just the third time UNC has attempted fewer free throws than the opponents (also in 1953-54 and 2001-02). The 843 free throw attempts are the most by the opponents since 1972 (853).



No. 4 Carolina Meets No. 1 Wisconsin In West Coast Battle

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 26-11 overall, takes on top-seeded and 33-3 Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament West Regional Semifinal Thursday night at 7:47 p.m. in the Los Angeles STAPLES Center.

***Listen to the story***

For the veteran Badgers, the Sweet Sixteen has become customary. They’ve made it to this stage of the Big Dance in four of the past five years.

Frank Kaminsky is a special player for the Badgers (Badger Athletics)

Frank Kaminsky is a special player for the Badgers (Badger Athletics)

But this year, Wisconsin is the heavy favorite to progress even further. Armed with the first No.1 seeding designation in the school’s history, head coach Bo Ryan says he’s honored to represent the Big Ten in a big way.

“We’re just very pleased to represent the Big Ten and our University in the Sweet Sixteen. These guys definitely have had the kind of season that they’ve earned every inch of this. Hopefully we can go out to L.A. and get something done,” Coach Ryan says.

Less is more for Wisconsin. The fewer the number of possessions, the more of a premium will be placed on ball control, and frankly, up to this point, the Badgers have been far less turnover-prone than the Tar Heels.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige says having played Virginia a couple times this season has helped Carolina prepare for the Wisconsin challenge.

An in-form Marcus Paige is vital for UNC's postseason success (Todd Melet)

An in-form Marcus Paige is vital for UNC’s postseason success (Todd Melet)

“Even if they’re not a team that traditionally plays slow, they’ll slow it down against us. They think that’s an advantage. We’ve played against that a lot this year. I think that will help us moving forward into this game. Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country at doing that,” Paige says.

Although the Tar Heels would rather play an up-tempo style, UNC head coach Roy Williams says he’s not convinced his club will be able to establish a pace to their liking against the Badgers.

“Wisconsin is a one-seed for a reason. They’re able to get you to play their tempo more than you can get them to play the tempo you want. You guys have heard me say I’d much rather win in the 90’s, but if you want to be a really good team you’ve got to win in the 60’s or 50’s or whatever it is,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels dive to the floor in their pregame ritual (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels dive to the floor in their pregame ritual (Todd Melet)

In practice this week, UNC has attempted to simulate the methodical tenor of the Wisconsin offense, but Coach Williams is under no illusions. The Hall of Famer says at this level, it’s hard to replicate what the best players in the nation can do.

“You can’t really simulate what the dickens Wisconsin is going to do. We talk to them about it, show them the tape and the whole bit, but you can’t do it. If they’re really good, you can’t really speed it up, you just better be able to play at a different pace,” Coach Williams says.

One of the stars in L.A. this weekend will be Wisconsin’s National Player of the Year candidate, Frank Kaminsky. The consensus Big Ten Player of the Year can do it all and is averaging 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

But Wisconsin is by no means a one-man show. Kaminsky says having all the pieces to the puzzle in place feeds into his confidence.

Roy Williams will no doubt be animated in the STAPLES Center (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams will no doubt be animated in the STAPLES Center (Todd Melet)

“We’re going into games expecting to compete, play hard and come out on top. When you get to stage like this, we were able to do it last year. We know what it takes. We know what we need to do on and off on the court. When you have that recipe for success with people in front of you, you know what it takes and know what to do,” Kaminsky says.

So what’s the game plan for Carolina? Coach Williams says the Tar Heels will need to lock in defensively, limit turnovers and make high-percentage shots.

“All the time I’m saying, ‘Let’s give them one bad shot.’ Our first goal is always to steal the ball, but you don’t do that much any more. I’m going to think about cutting down their field goal percentage, us making a high percentage and not turning the dadgum basketball over,” Coach Williams says.

UNC leads the all-time series with Wisconsin, 2-0, and won the most recent encounter in 2011, 60-57.

Join the Chapelboro Bracket Challenge to play along with other WCHL and Chapelboro fans and win great prizes!


‘Second-Half Marcus’ Back For Sweet Sixteen Trip

The Tar Heel men’s basketball  team defeated the fifth-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday night in Jacksonville to advance to the second week of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

***Listen to the story***

The latter rounds of March Madness used to be a formality for the Tar Heels, but in recent years, nothing has been a guarantee. But here they are – back where Carolina belongs.

Yes, how sweet it is! Using an up-tempo pace more to Roy Williams’ liking, the Tar Heels fought past the Razorbacks, 87-78, to advance and keep their big dreams of national glory alive.

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

It was party time for Carolina! (UNC Athletics)

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 26-11 overall while the Razorbacks finished their season with a 27-9 tally.

Coach Williams certainly had plenty to smile about after the game. The Hall of Famer tied his mentor, the late Dean Smith, with 65 NCAA Tournament wins – second-most all-time.

Things apparently got a little wild in the postgame locker room.

And you can’t blame Roy for celebrating; he says it’s been a tough year.

“Losing Coach Smith, losing Ted Seagroves – my big-time buddy, losing Stuart Scott, the stuff we’ve had going on, it’s been a hard year – it really has. I probably acted sillier in the locker room after this game than I have in quite a while. I’m going to try to enjoy the dickens out of this one for a while,” Coach Williams says.

UNC junior guard Marcus Paige went off in Jacksonville, scoring 20 of his eventual 22 points in the second half to lead the Carolina scoring charge.

Yes, ‘Second-Half’ Marcus is back, folks!

Paige taking it to the basket (Todd Melet)

Paige taking it to the basket (Todd Melet)

“I think it was more the media that pegged that name on me. My teammates went along with it after it got some notoriety. I don’t know what that’s all about. I just try to help my team win. In big moments, I feel like I get put into positions to succeed by my teammates. Sometimes, if you have a poor first half you want to do whatever you can to erase that and make up for it,” Paige says.

Paige’s renewed health was put on full display and with a zero turnover performance turned in by teammate J.P. Tokoto, the Tar Heels proved to be a formidable force.

Can Carolina keep it going? Thursday will be the next chance to watch the Heels strive to achieve ‘elite’ status, or rather, advance to the Elite Eight round of the Big Dance.

Join the Chapelboro Bracket Challenge to play along with other WCHL and Chapelboro fans and win great prizes!


Tar Heels Hoping To Clean Up Act Against Arkansas

After surviving Harvard’s upset bid Thursday night, the fourth-seeded UNC men’s basketball team turns its attention to fifth-seeded Arkansas for a Round of 32 meeting Saturday night at 8:40 p.m. in Jacksonville.

***Listen to the story***

17 turnovers. That’s a stat that’s had Roy Williams scratching his head since the Harvard great escape.

But it’s not a new dilemma. The Tar Heels, sporting a 25-11 record overall; have struggled to take care of the basketball all season long.

Justin Jackson came up big Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson came up big Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Nevertheless, they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and after a narrow 67-65 victory in round two of the NCAA Tournament, Coach Williams is relieved.

“Right now I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better with his team than I did with mine. We were extremely lucky. It’s the luckiest I’ve ever felt after a basketball game in my entire life,” Coach Williams says.

UNC freshman Justin Jackson emerged as the hero against Harvard, scoring the game’s final four points when all the momentum was going the other way.

Jackson says he was mentally prepared to step up and take the final shot.

“If I was open, I was going to shoot it. If they come up on me, I wasn’t going to, but they backed off,” Jackson says.

Everybody’s a winner come tournament time. They all know how to win. That’s why any slips in concentration can prove especially fatal.

Jackson says the Tar Heels can’t afford to take the pedal off the metal at this point.

Theo Pinson is back healthy and adds to UNC's depth off the bench (Todd Melet)

Theo Pinson is back healthy and adds to UNC’s depth off the bench (Todd Melet)

“There were times that we were all the way in it. Then there were lulls where I don’t know what it was, we just kind of relaxed. Harvard’s a great team and took advantage of that,” Jackson says.

Arkansas, 27-8 overall, slipped by Wofford, 56-53, in a back-and-forth game that featured 18 lead changes, 10 ties and neither team ahead by more than five points.

Razorback head coach Mike Anderson says he’s just fortunate to still be dancing.

“What a gutsy performance. It was a game that was played at their pace. We were fortunate to be on the winning side. They just ran out of time. Thank goodness they ran out of time. But we executed when we had to,” Coach Anderson says.

The Tar Heels will have to look out for SEC Player of the Year Michael Qualls. The junior guard scored 20 points Thursday night and can morph into a one-man highlight reel at times. The guy’s been a regular on the SportsCenter Top 10 plays segment.

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls is a game-changing player for the Razorbacks (Wholehogsports.com)

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls is a game-changing player for the Razorbacks (Wholehogsports.com)

Can the Tar Heels contain him Saturday? It will be an intriguing proposition for junior forward J.P. Tokoto and company.

But Jackson is more concerned with the play of his own team. In particular, he says the lapses in concentration that have plagued Carolina for the majority of the season have got to be wiped out.

“It’s not ‘is what it is’. It’s the first round game and Harvard is a great team. We just got to go back and change it. Next game, we can’t have that because the next game will be even harder. We’ve talked about it all season, but it’s the NCAA Tournament, so we’ve got to change it,” Jackson says.

If the Tar Heels can cut out the sloppy stretches of basketball and avoid turnovers, they’ve demonstrated a strong proclivity to scoring on offense and should be in good shape. But if the erratic play continues, Saturday could very well be the final destination in UNC’s postseason journey.


‘Lucky’ Tar Heels Hold Off Crimson, Survive and Advance

UNC junior forward J.P. Tokoto knocked down a silky smooth three-pointer to open proceedings Thursday evening inside the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Carolina. The waters got rocky.

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team built a hefty 16-point lead in the second half and from there, held on for dear life down the stretch to scrape past a pesky Harvard team, 67-65. With the victory, the Tar Heels survived to fight another day in the NCAA Tournament and improved to 25-11 on the season.

***Listen to the story***

Roy Williams was in full voice Thursday night (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams was in full voice Thursday night (Todd Melet)

With the loss, the Crimson finish with a 22-8 overall record and 11-3 mark in Ivy League play.

17 turnovers almost sent the Tar Heels to the exit doors early, but thanks to freshman forward Justin Jackson, Carolina found the escape hatch in the nick of time.

Jackson, who finished with a team-leading 14 points, saved the day for UNC, finishing with a flourish. Jackson scored the game’s final four points to avoid the upset bug on a day that was already full of them.

“I feel like I won the lottery. Tommy Amaker did a much better job with his team than I did with mine,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Carolina’s length and athleticism troubled Harvard for the majority of the contest and allowed UNC to amass a 36-26 rebounding advantage and an edge in points in the paint. But Harvard capitalized on those 17 Carolina turnovers to the tune of 29 points to get to the doorstep of victory.

“You can’t say enough about the effort our kids put forth. We battled to get back in it. I thought we played with great poise. Wesley Saunders […] carried us to put us into position to have a chance. I’m very proud of our team,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker says.

Harvard senior guard Wesley Saunders did all he could for his team, totaling a game-high 26 points on 8-14 shooting. Routinely, Saunders left the Tar Heels in the dust on his way to the basket – beating them off the dribble.

“He was a load. We knew that. Last year, he was player of the year in their league. We tried to focus on him with our team. J.P. [Tokoto] really did a pretty doggone job, but he was really hard to guard,” Coach Williams says.

And yes, there was only one reason Harvard was hanging around in the early going…that was Saunders, who scored his team’s first ten points. Meanwhile, Carolina was getting contributions from a cast of characters ranging from big man Joel James to streaky sophomore Isaiah Hicks to points leader Marcus Paige.

J.P. Tokoto tallied 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds (Todd Melet)

J.P. Tokoto tallied 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds (Todd Melet)

An 11-0 UNC run spearheaded by a suffocating defense set the tenor of the contest. When Kennedy Meeks is beating opponents down the floor for a quick score, it’s not a good sign for the opposing team. That happened Thursday night.

However, some sloppy turnovers and an over four-minute scoring drought from Carolina in the waning moments of the first half kept Harvard alive, but by halftime, the Tar Heels had stretched out their scoreboard lead to a 36-25 margin thanks to 56-percent shooting from the floor.

The second half opened with a Justin Jackson three-point snipe that got the Heels off and running again, building up what seemed like a commanding 16-point lead. Carolina was having its way on the glass using every last mismatch inside to its advantage.

Justin Jackson saved the day for Carolina (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson saved the day for Carolina (Todd Melet)

But there was no quit in the Crimson. Things got mighty interesting. Harvard took the lead at 65-63 on a three-pointer and a foul from who else but Saunders with under two minutes to play. Scrappy, opportunistic offense coupled with a methodical tempo powered the determined Crimson attack.

Meanwhile, Carolina couldn’t do much right in the closing stretch with turnover after turnover leading to a lot of concerned looks on the Tar Heels’ faces.

But in the end, the rally fell short. The Heels somehow remained cool under pressure in the crucible of the inspired late-game surge by their opponents. When Saunders’ final three-point shot – an open look – missed its mark, Roy Williams and the rest of Tar Heel Nation could breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“I’m thrilled we’re still here and still playing. These two guys – Marcus [Paige] made two big shots and Justin [Jackson] made two big shots. If we had played a little bit better, it may not have required that, but you have to give Harvard credit. It’s driving me wacko, but having said that, we’re still here playing,” Coach Williams says.

Despite the scare, Coach Williams kept his unblemished record intact. The Hall of Famer is now 25-0 in Round of 64 NCAA Tournament games as a head coach.

Next up for the Heels comes a Saturday Round of 32 meeting with fifth-seeded Arkansas, who downed No. 12 Wofford, 56-53.


Join the Chapelboro Bracket Challenge to play along with other WCHL and Chapelboro fans and win great prizes!


Win or Go Home: UNC’s Tourney Journey Begins With Harvard Obstacle

The fourth-seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team, 24-11 overall and 11-7 in ACC play, gets its 2015 NCAA Tournament campaign underway Thursday night at 7:20 p.m. in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The opponent? The No. 13 seeds and Ivy League champions, the Harvard Crimson.

***Listen to the story***

Expectations are always high for the Tar Heels this time of year. But what’s the secret to NCAA Tournament success?

The Tar Heels will be hoping for a deep push in the NCAA Tournament (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels will be hoping for a deep push in the NCAA Tournament (Todd Melet)

UNC head coach Roy Williams has been to seven Final Fours and says it’s a mixture of skill and mentality.

“First of all, talent. The one thing we understand is how significant and important it is. We try to be ready to play the first day. We’ve always tried to get our kids to understand the next game and not to be looking down the road. I think we really do focus on the first opponent and do that all the way through it,” Coach Williams says.

So does this year’s Carolina squad have the makings of a Final Four group? Coach Williams says recent developments have him optimistic.

“I think two things get me a little excited. One, I think we’re getting a little healthier, which always makes it easier. The other thing, I think we gained something from the ACC Tournament. I think at times, we played very well. We showed some toughness, played four games in four days and were fresh in the fourth game because we wanted to be fresh mentally,” Coach Williams says.

But there are a couple fallibilities that could keep the Tar Heels from their ultimate quest for Indianapolis.

“That’s been the story all year long. We’ve got to cut down on the turnovers, stop making the silly fouls and make sure we do a much better job on the backboards. Some of the games this year we’ve been great rebounding. Silly fouls and the turnovers are what we have to improve on all the time,” Coach Williams says.

A healthy Marcus Paige is vital for UNC's postseason success (Todd Melet)

A healthy Marcus Paige is vital for UNC’s postseason success (Todd Melet)

Tommy Amaker’s Harvard Crimson program, 22-7 overall and 11-3 in league action, is getting well adjusted to life in March Madness. For the fourth straight season, Harvard will represent the Ivy League in the bracket.

Coach Amaker says his players are hoping to acquit themselves well against a program they have a great deal of respect for.

“We’re healthy, excited and are very hopeful for our kids to embrace the moment against a program and a team that’s historic and storied. We certainly have an amazing amount of respect and admiration for UNC and their historic program. What an opportunity for us and amazing moment for us to represent our school and our conference,” Coach Amaker says.

The feeling is mutual. Coach Williams says his relationship with Coach Amaker spans back a few decades.

“I really enjoy and like Tommy Amaker. I competed against him when he was at Duke. I was an assistant here [UNC]. I talk to Tommy on the road all the time. I think he’s a marvelous person and has done a really nice job there. Our team will be focused on Harvard. We won’t be looking past them,” Coach Williams says.

Interestingly, Harvard leads the all-time series with Carolina 2-0, but not much stock should be placed in that head-to-head. After all, the two schools haven’t met on the hardwood since 1926.

JP Tokoto assaults the rim (Todd Melet)

JP Tokoto assaults the rim (Todd Melet)

One of the X-factors for the Tar Heels is generally rangy, athletic junior forward J.P. Tokoto, who can lock in defensively and provide electrifying offensive fireworks.

Tokoto says attention to detail and focus will determine UNC’s tournament destiny.

“It’s win or go home. Our level of intensity and level we play at is going to be huge for us. It’s going to be a determining factor of whether we’re going to stay in the tournament and be able to play or be sent home early,” Tokoto says.

That’s the Big Dance – equal parts tragedy and ecstasy. It’s what makes it such compelling theatre. The Tar Heels hope to have an extended stay on the game’s grandest stage.


Tar Heels Take On High-Powered Cyclones For Sweet 16 Berth

Fresh off their gritty escape over Providence Friday night, the No. 6 seeded North Carolina men’s basketball team face a formidable challenge in the Iowa State Cyclones, the No. 3 seed, in the Round of 32 Sunday at 5:15 p.m. in San Antonio.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels have new life. Somehow, they were able to withstand an NCAA Tournament performance for the ages by Providence’s Bryce Cotton to keep dancing.

Head Coach Roy Williams says he was proud of his team’s toughness and resiliency down the stretch Friday night.

“The kids kept fighting. I talked about how tough we have to be the last four minutes. I thought our guys were really tough. They made some big-time plays,” Coach Williams says.

But next up for the Tar Heels are the Iowa State Cyclones, one of the premier offensive units in the country. The Cyclones tore apart the NC Central Eagles in their opening contest, seemingly scoring at will from anywhere on the court.

Sophomore Brice Johnson says it was important for Carolina to reassert its dominance on the glass in their NCAA opener. That will certainly be another key Sunday against IowaState.

“In practice, Coach has been getting on us every day about getting to the glass and getting second chance points. That’s the big thing that he’s been emphasizing that last couple days in practice. That’s the one thing that we wanted to do,” Johnson says.

Bench on their feet! (Todd Melet)

Bench on their feet! (Todd Melet)

But the Tar Heels may have caught a lucky break. Cyclone center Georges Niang broke his foot in the NC Central game and has been ruled out for the remainder of the Tournament.

How vital is Niang to the Cyclone offense? He averaged 16.5 points per game and can just as easily pop three-pointers as conduct work around the basket.

Carolina will still need to be at its best Sunday as Iowa State has plenty of other offensive weaponry, including DeAndre Kane. Kane posted 14 points and seven rebounds in the opening game.

The Big 12 Tournament champions opened as a 1-point favorite over the Tar Heels.

Head Coach Roy Williams will be leaning on his star performers to get the Tar Heels to the Sweet Sixteen. He says the leadership of juniors James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige has made his job a lot easier this season.

“Marcus and James Michael are great leaders. They’re leaders by how well they play. They’re leaders by how intelligent they are. They’re leaders by how unselfish they are. But when they say something, the other kids listen to them as well,” Coach Williams says.

A win over Iowa State on Sunday would send Carolina to a 32nd appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, an NCAA record, and book the Tar Heels a trip up to Madison Square Garden next weekend.