CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Marcus Ginyard remembers how the North
Carolina locker room felt last season, when a second-half collapse
sent Georgetown to the Final Four and left the Tar Heels wondering
what went so wrong.
The memories have stayed with North Carolina all season as it
fought its way to the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. Now the Tar
Heels are back in the round of eight. And just like last year, a
tough and physical Big East team - this time Rick Pitino-led
Louisville - stands between the Tar Heels and the Final Four.
"We felt like we've been trying to get to this point since last
year, since we were sitting in the locker room after the Georgetown
game," Ginyard said Friday. "Every single thing from that point
was directed to getting where we are right now, so this has been a
long time coming for us."
North Carolina's chance at NCAA redemption is probably the
biggest story line in an East Regional championship already rich
with them. Saturday night's game features two of college
basketball's marquee coaches in Pitino and North Carolina Hall of
Famer Roy Williams. The winner will pass Bob Knight and move into a
tie with Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and Louisville's Denny Crum with
six Final Four appearances, fourth most all-time.
It also pits Louisville center David Padgett against Williams,
who recruited him at Kansas before leaving to take the North
Carolina job in 2003 - a decision that prompted Padgett to transfer
to Louisville the following year.
In what has become the winningest season in the storied
program's history, the Tar Heels (35-2) are chasing a record 17th
Final Four appearance. Still, that 96-84 loss to the Hoyas remains
a tough reminder of what can happen if they don't finish the job.
Leading by 11 in the second half, North Carolina missed 22 of 23
shots over a stunning 15-minute span and watched the game slip
away. The Tar Heels thought about it though the offseason, most
notably with Wayne Ellington practicing the 3-pointer he missed at
the end of regulation over and over.
"I do believe it was motivation for us to work hard in the
offseason, but I don't think that's what's driven our club,"
Williams said. "The motivation for me is my dream to have the best
team we can possibly be."
North Carolina has done that in the tournament so far, winning
its first three NCAA games by at least 20 points for the first time
in program history. The Tar Heels opened the tournament in Raleigh,
about a half-hour from their Chapel Hill campus, by cracking the
100-point mark in routs of Mount St. Mary's and Arkansas. That sent
them to Charlotte, about two hours from home, where they locked
down defensively on the Cougars in a 68-47 win Thursday night in
front of another blue-clad, home-state crowd.
Their balance has been impressive. When All-American Tyler
Hansbrough didn't manage a field goal in the first half Thursday,
reserve Danny Green scored 15 points. For the tournament, point
guard Ty Lawson is averaging 17 points while Wayne Ellington is
averaging 16 points on the perimeter to complement Hansbrough
"They're all playing terrific," Pitino said. "It's not one
player. They've got great balance. You could make a case for about
five, six or seven of their players, which is one of the reasons
they're playing great."
The Tar Heels are 24-1 in NCAA games played in North Carolina,
including 8-0 here, to give the third-seeded Cardinals (27-8) the
unenviable task of having to win a road game to reach San Antonio.
"You always welcome that as a competitor," Louisville junior
Andre McGee said. "You kind of take it as the analogy of being the
gladiator in the coliseum. Everybody is hoping you get killed out
there. It's pretty tough."
Still, Louisville has plenty of confidence after winning 12 of
14 games to return to the regional finals for the first time since
its Final Four run in 2005. On Thursday night, the Cardinals held
No. 2 seed Tennessee to 34 percent shooting, including a 3-for-15
day for leading scorer Chris Lofton, in a 79-60 victory.
The matchup against the Tar Heels comes a little later than
expected. Both teams were in the early-season Las Vegas
Invitational, though BYU beat Louisville with Padgett sidelined
because of a broken right kneecap suffered in the second game.
Padgett returned Jan. 1, and the Cardinals started their
late-season run about a month later.
Now they get the chance to send the Tar Heels home with another
"Yeah, the Georgetown loss is still on our mind," Hansbrough
said. "But each year we try to do different things and want to go
a little farther than the 'Elite Eight."'
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)