Carolina and Villanova have played 14 times in men’s basketball, with the Tar Heels holding a 10-4 record, 4-1 in the NCAA Tournament. But almost all of the games have been significant. To wit:
Their first meeting was in 1956, when Frank McGuire’s eventual (1957) national championship team was playing together for the first season. The Tar Heels, who finished 18-5 that year, defeated Villanova in their Dixie Classic opener in December. Carolina won by 23.
Their next meeting was in the final Dixie Classic in December of 1960, before UNC President Bill Friday shut down the eight-team holiday tournament due to the point-shaving scandal that emerged after the season. Carolina beat the Wildcats in the second round by 20 this time.
The teams met again in what had become the most famous Christmas tournament, the Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden. Dean Smith succeeded McGuire and by December of 1968 had built the second-best program in the country behind UCLA. The Tar Heels and four-time national champion Bruins were in the Festival field, along with Villanova, St. John’s and Princeton. Carolina defeated Villanova in the opening game, 69-61, in a rough-and-tumble affair that included near fisticuffs between UNC’s Charlie Scott and Villanova’s Howard Porter. The Heels missed their chance to face-off with Lew Alcindor and UCLA when they were upset in the semifinals by hometown St. John’s before a roaring capacity crowd at the Garden.
The Carolina-Villanova rivalry really got interesting when the schools next met 12 years later. The top-ranked Tar Heels with freshman Michael Jordan, sophomore Sam Perkins and junior James Worthy, played Rollie Massimino’s Wildcats in the Elite Eight game of the NCAA Tournament in Reynolds Coliseum. In a regional where all five UNC starters scored in double figures in both games, Carolina held off freshman star Ed Pin ckney and ‘Nova, 70-60, and moved on to New Orleans where they defeated Houston and Georgetown for Smith’s first national championship.
The following year, the teams played a regular-season game at Carmichael Auditorium. No. 12 Villanova stunned No. 1 UNC, which had won 18 in a row going in. The 56-53 shocker turned the season around for the Tar Heels, who lost three straight and dropped to No. 11 in the rankings. Carolina went 7-5 over its last 12 games, including two upsets to Cinderella N.C. State and a loss to Georgia in the Elite Eight of the 1983 NCAA Tournament, which denied them another shot at the Cardiac Pack in the Final Four. And you know what happened there in Albuquerque.
The most historic loss to Villanova came in the South Regional final in Birmingham two years later. The Tar Heels, who had rallied through the 1985 NCAA Tournament without injured guard Steve Hale, actually led the Wildcats by eight and were holding the ball for the last shot of the first half. Kenny Smith got tied up for a jump ball, Villanova took possession and Harold Jensen made an old-fashioned three-point play at the buzzer. Unranked ‘Nova outscored Carolina by 17 in the second half, moved on to the Final Four in Lexington and pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA history by shooting 79 percent for the game (22 of 28) and beating “unbeatable” defending champion Georgetown and Patrick Ewing for the school’s only national title.
Carolina defeated Villanova in the 1989 Maui Classic and at home during the 1992 season. In between, the Tar Heels beat the Wildcats in the 1991 East Regional on the way to the Final Four. The top-ranked Heels won the next meeting at the Smith Center in 1995, but then dropped TWO games to Villanova the following season, one in Maui and the other in Philly.
Who can forget the East Regional sweet Sixteen at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse in 2005? Certainly not ‘Nova fans. With Carolina clinging to a three-point lead late, Villanova’s Allan Ray drove, scored and appeared to be fouled by Melvin Scott. But Tom O’Neill’s whistle was not to signal the “and one” that could have tied the game. It was for travelling on Ray, which when looking at the clip does not appear to have occurred.
Anyway, Carolina won the game, went on to win the national championship and, four years later, beat Villanova easily in the Final Four at Detroit on the way to Roy Williams’ second NCAA title. The rich, and controversial, series between the two schools resumes Friday night in Kansas City. My guess is that O’Neill, who was voted 2012 national official of the year, will not be calling the game.