|Stunned Tar Heels dwell on horrible performance against Kansas that ended historic season|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 06 April 2008 10:32|
This was not the end North Carolina envisioned.
The Tar Heels never expected they would have to explain why their fast-paced offense suddenly couldn't score. Or why they fell behind by 28 points. Or even worse, whether a season built on the goal of winning a national championship was a failure after losing to Kansas in the Final Four.
Now North Carolina heads into an offseason in which they could emerge again as a national-title favorite or as a rebuilding team after losing its top players. Either way, Saturday's 84-66 loss to the Jayhawks will hover over the program just like last year's NCAA tournament loss to Georgetown.
``When you put it aside, you see you've done great things this year,'' junior Marcus Ginyard said Saturday night in the dejected Alamodome locker room. ``But it's impossible really at this point to put the loss out of your mind and say, 'Hey, we had a great season,' because we didn't get what we wanted.''
The Tar Heels (36-3) certainly have reason to feel good about the year. No team won more games in school history. They earned the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the second straight year. They reached their 17th Final Four with a strong run through the NCAA tournament's East Regional, where they won all four games by double figures and cracked the 100-point mark in the first two rounds.
Along the way, Hansbrough piled up several national player of the year awards - including from The Associated Press - ensuring that he would become only the eighth player in school history to have his jersey retired.
Yet this season ended much like last year, when an unproven but talented group fell a game short of the Final Four thanks to a second-half collapse in the NCAA regional final against the Hoyas. The Tar Heels figured those experiences would make them even more prepared to win the national championship.
Instead, the Tar Heels - facing a team just as deep and talented - fell behind 40-12 against coach Roy Williams' former program in a disastrous first half. North Carolina managed a frantic comeback that closed the gap to four points in the second half, but the Jayhawks pulled away late to hand the Tar Heels their worst loss in five seasons under their Hall of Fame coach.
``I couldn't have been prouder of my team at that point,'' said Williams, who deflected all title-or-bust questions this year. ``We had a marvelous, marvelous run. But yet their dreams were bigger than this, and it hurts a great deal right now.''
The question now is whether the Tar Heels will be able to take the next step. Reserve point guard Quentin Thomas - the last member of the 2005 championship team - was their only scholarship senior, but he might not be the only player to leave.
Hansbrough, a 6-foot-9 junior, faced questions all season about whether he will enter the NBA draft. He remained adamant that his only goal was to get his team to the Final Four and win the national championship. It's unclear whether just making it to San Antonio will be enough.
He enters next season ranked second on the school's career list with 2,168 points, putting him 122 behind Phil Ford for the record. If he returns, he'll likely pass Ford in the first few weeks of the season and would be within reach of the ACC career mark set by Duke's J.J. Redick (2,769 points) in 2006.
Sophomores Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington also could decide to enter their name for draft consideration. All three said they had not yet made any decisions.
If the trio returns, North Carolina would have its starting lineup back along with reserves Danny Green, Alex Stepheson and Bobby Frasor, who is recovering from knee surgery that sidelined him midway through the year. Throw in a recruiting class ranked sixth nationally by Scout.com, and the Tar Heels could be ready to put on another high-scoring show.
For now, they'll just have to wait and see.
``I don't know what's going on in other guys' heads,'' Green said. ``I'm pretty sure nobody's thinking about it right now, and nobody's really quick to make a decision. ... If some guys leave, good luck to them. I'm going to miss them. But for the most part, I think most guys are going to be back next year looking to take that next step again.''