|The first day of the regional semifinals|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 March 2008 19:16|
By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
There was never any question about North Carolina's offense. The Tar Heels made quite a statement with their defense Thursday night.
The first East Regional semifinal was a matchup of the country's second-best offense and second-best defense: North Carolina and its 89.9 points per game against Washington State, which allowed an average of 56.1 points.
It was a clash of opposites basketball purists couldn't wait to see but it turned out to be no contest.
North Carolina showed the defensive specialists - the Cougars held Notre Dame to 41 points in the second round - a thing or two about stopping an opponent.
The Tar Heels held Washington State to 31.6 percent shooting, including 2-for-16 from 3-point range, in their 68-47 victory that sent them on to the regional finals for the second straight year.
``We were trying to contest everything,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. ``I think one of the things we wanted to be is, I put up on the board, `tough enough, patient enough, poised enough.' And talking about guarding for 35 seconds.''
Center Aron Baynes was 6-for-8 from the field for the Cougars, so except for him, Washington State shot 12-for-49, a number it usually keeps opponents to.
Washington State coach Tony Bennett said he was concerned about his team's 3-point shooting ``and against a team this talented I knew we would have to make some shots. The quality of shots were pretty good. I think it affects you more on the defensive end. We couldn't get one to drop and you felt so much pressure on your defense, and the looks, again, were there.''
North Carolina broke the 100-point mark in its first two games of the tournament - the first time a team did that since Loyola Marymount in 1990 - and although it didn't come close to that number against Washington State, the Tar Heels won by enough to again clear the bench and get every player in the game.
Williams said the Tar Heels didn't approach the game as a clash of styles.
``We looked at it as we have to get through it because it's the next game. We didn't look at their style of play. We didn't look at our opponent. It was just the next game in front of us,'' he said. ``I'd rather win in the 80, 90, and 100s, but sometimes you have to win in the 50s and 60s. And you have to be tough enough to understand that, and you have to be tough enough to make the shots and tough enough to guard for 35 seconds.''
One of the best defensive segments of the game for the Tar Heels came in the second half when Alex Stepheson blocked a dunk attempt by Washington State's Kyle Weaver and then on the Cougars' next trip down court, Stepheson sent a drive by Weaver into the band behind the basket.
``I think North Carolina is better defensively than people think,'' Bennett said. ``They can guard you, they certainly can.''
BAD THREES: Three-point shooting is always considered a key to postseason success and that was apparent in the first day of the regional semifinals. Washington State, West Virginia and Tennessee all struggled from long range in third-round losses.
Washington State came into the NCAA tournament shooting 38.1 percent beyond the arc but in its three NCAA games the Cougars were 10-for-46 (21.7 percent), including 2-for-16 in the 68-47 East Regional semifinal loss to North Carolina.
West Virginia was fifth in the Big East in 3-point percentage at 35.9 but the Mountaineers made one of 11 from behind the arc in their 79-75 overtime loss to Xavier in the West Regional semifinal.
``I don't know what we are shooting on the year but it is definitely better than 10 percent,'' West Virginia's Joe Alexander said. ``In a close game like that, if we would have shot, you know, even half of what we normally shoot, it would have made a big difference. So it definitely hurt us a lot.''
Tennessee came into the NCAA tournament shooting 36.2 percent on 3s but the Volunteers were 16-for-58 in their three games including 5-for-20 in the 79-60 loss to Louisville. Chris Lofton, who finished his career third on the all-time NCAA 3-point list with 431 was 2-for-11 in his final college game and had three of his 3-point attempts blocked.
``I just tried to blitz the screen and every time he's on my side get up and jam him,'' said Earl Clark, one of several Louisville players who defended Lofton during the game. ``I tried to make it a tough shot for him.''
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said it was changing defenses that made the difference.
``When you give any good team a steady diet of one defense it's not quite as good,'' he said. ``We extend our zone almost like a halfcourt trap. We don't give the wings good looks and especially on Earl's side we're quite long and (Terrence Williams) is a great athlete as well.''
Lofton was terse in his postgame comments.
``They wouldn't leave me,'' he said. ``It was tough to get my shot off. They're a great defensive team.''
WORKING OVERTIME: Xavier's B.J. Raymond scored all eight of his points in the 5-minute overtime in the Musketeers' 79-74 win over West Virginia.
``I just want to thank Coach for having a lot of confidence in me to put me back in the game,'' said Raymond, who hit two 3-pointers in the final 1:18. ``When I was kind of a nonfactor for the first 40 minutes. And I knew when I got back in there, I had to make something happen, whether it be grabbing a rebound, getting a steal. Luckily he called the play for me to roll it to the top. And I was open and I knocked one down. All I needed was one to get me going, so ...''
Raymond, who averages 10.1 points per game, didn't get down on himself at any point.
``As a player, you always have to stay in the game,'' he said. ``Going and making the shots, I shot that shot probably 100,000 times in my life. It is easy once you shoot it that many times. So it really wasn't like the shot wasn't pressure. It was simply just making sure I caught it pretty well.''
CONFERENCE CALL: The Big East and Pac-10 both started the round of 16 with three teams alive, the most of any of the conferences. They both had two teams playing Thursday and they both split.
Louisville was the Big East's winner with a 79-60 victory over Tennessee, while West Virginia lost 79-75 in overtime to Xavier.
UCLA was the Pac-10's winner with an 88-78 victory over Western Kentucky, while Washington State lost 68-47 to North Carolina.
The other Big East team is Villanova, which plays Kansas on Friday night, while Stanford of the Pac-10 also plays a Big 12 team, Texas.
NO TIES: Two coaches went without a tie on the bench Thursday night and they both lost.
Washington State's Tony Bennett went with an open-collared shirt and suit jacket in the Cougars' 68-47 loss to North Carolina.
West Virginia's Bob Huggins had a T-shirt under his sports jacket as the Mountaineers fell 79-75 to Xavier in overtime.
Seems that was knot the correct fashion decision.