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Villanova wins national championship on Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beater

No. 2 Villanova won its first national championship since 1985, defeating No. 1 North Carolina, 77-74, on Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beating three-pointer Monday night in Houston.

It is Villanova's second national championship while North Carolina finishes as the national runners-up for the fifth time.

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Villanova wins national title on Kris Jenkins' three-pointer at the buzzer

The lead had evaporated. Overtime loomed.

For Villanova, its season hung in the balance in Monday's national championship game, thanks to North Carolina guard Marcus Paige's circus-shot three-pointer that tied the game with less than five seconds left. But that shot was about to be upstaged.

With the clock ticking down, Ryan Arcidiacono brought the ball upcourt, and tossed back to Kris Jenkins. Jenkins let it go.

The ball went in, Jenkins hands went up, and the rest of the team wrestled him down.

It capped a classic, 77-74 thriller for Villanova, which won its second national championship.

Villanova defeats North Carolina, 77-74, on Kris Jenkins' three-pointer at the buzzer

Some special visitors in attendance tonight cheering on North Carolina: 

Championship game: About to get underway in Houston

The starting lineups for the NCAA championship game:

Villanova (34-5): Junior forward Kris Jenkins; senior forward Daniel Ochefu; freshman guard Jalen Brunson; junior guard Josh Hart; senior guard Ryan Arcidiancono.

North Carolina (33-6): Junior forward Kennedy Meeks; senior forward Brice Johnson; sophomore forward Justin Jackson; sophomore guard Joel Berry II; senior guard Marcus Paige.

Marcus Paige's shot helps Tar Heels pull away from Syracuse

 (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)
(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

It was happening again.

Almost a week after Syracuse's improbable comeback against Virginia, the Orange again trailed big against North Carolina in the second half of Saturday's national semifinal game. Then, the lead started to vanish: a three-pointer, a dunk, a layup. When Malachi Richardson, last week's hero, hit another three-pointer, the lead was in single digits, at seven.

North Carolina was reeling. It was dominating inside, but was 0 for 13 on three-point attempts. At the other end, Marcus Paige tried another.

This time it went in. The comeback faltered. North Carolina peeled away for an 83-66 victory, and will play Villanova on Monday for the national championship.

The three-pointer ended a horrid stretch for the backcourt from behind the arc, but Paige said “it was more of a relief for our entire team. We needed that basket.”

In film study this week, North Carolina (33-6) watched how Syracuse (23-14) had clamped down against Virginia with a full-court press. Forward Kennedy Meeks said the players saw how the Orange harassed a usually careful, patient team into mistakes.

“It's a dangerous thing,” Meeks said.

Syracuse again clamped down late, as it cut into North Carolina's lead.

“That's when we needed our press to work, we needed our traps to work,” Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney said.

At first, they did. North Carolina had two turnovers in three possessions.

Tar Heels Coach Roy Williams called timeout and screamed at his players.

“My pulse went up quite a bit,” he said. “My heart rate went up quite a bit.”

The team settled down. It leaned on its preparation.

“We knew they would press eventually in the game,” forward Brice Johnson said. “Hey, if that's what you want to do against a team that likes to run, then, hey, by all means go ahead and do it. We got a bunch of layups out of it. That's what we do.”

The Tar Heels bullied Syracuse inside for much of the game. They scored 50 points in the paint and outrebounded the Orange, 43-31.

Johnson and Meeks shot a combined 13 for 20. Johnson and forward Justin Jackson each had 16 points, Meeks 15.

For Syracuse, Cooney scored 22 points and Richardson had 17.

North Carolina will make its 10th appearance in the national title game. The Tar Heels' path there could not have been much smoother. They've trailed for all of 50 seconds in the second half of their NCAA tournament games.

But in the other semifinal, Villanova won by 44 points. It is the first time since 2008 both semifinal games were decided by double digits. Some North Carolina players caught some of the early contest. Others learned of the score for the first time in the postgame locker room.

“They won by how much?” Meeks said, mouth agape.

Williams said he'd been informed of Villanova's unprecedented 71.4% shooting accuracy. If they shoot that again, Williams drawled, “they'll probably win again.”

Syracuse, meanwhile, was an unlikely pick to even make it this far. The Orange squeaked into the tournament. Cooney said at his postgame press conference that “we weren't even supposed to be here.” But they became the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four.

The game had another unusual distinction: it was played between two teams under NCAA scrutiny. Syracuse is on probation for NCAA rules violations, which Coach Jim Boeheim has vigorously argued against, and which resulted in his nine-game suspension earlier this season.

North Carolina has been under investigation for years over allegations of widespread academic cheating in the athletic program.

Boeheim grew argumentative when a reporter asked about the suspension.

“Why do you guys always ask me that, really? Did you ask Roy that?” Boeheim said. “I guess my answer to your question is, I'm happier now at the end of this year than any time I've ever coached.”

Sanctions may await North Carolina, too, but all of the involved players have moved on. For now, at least, their focus is elsewhere.

Running up the tunnel toward the locker room, Johnson yelled, “One more!”

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

Final Four: North Carolina and Syracuse about to tip off

Villanova defeats Oklahoma, 95-51, by record-setting margin

HOUSTON -- There came a time in the first national semifinal game — much of the second half, really — when a sense of decency had to be preserved.

It was the waning minutes of Villanova's seismic, historic 95-51 demolition of Oklahoma on Saturday. Villanova guard Phil Booth tore off on another breakaway. He chopped his feet, anticipating a dunk.

"Coach was telling him, 'Cool it down! Cool it down!'" Villanova forward Daniel Ochefu said. "We all understood at that point, we're not trying to disgrace anybody. We're not trying to make ourselves look like bad people."

Villanova Coach Jay Wright knew: The Wildcats could hardly miss if they tried. Never in NCAA tournament history had a Final Four game been so lopsided. The 44-point victory made the next-greatest margin, 34-point wins by Michigan State (1979) and Cincinnati (1963), seem like nail-biters.

Villanova's dominance was without parallel. The Wildcats (34-5) scored nearly 1.5 points per possession. They made 71.4% of their field goals, second in Final Four history to Villanova's 1985 performance against Georgetown. Only back then, there were no three-point shots.

(The Wildcats made 11 of those against Oklahoma, on 18 attempts.)

It was easy to forget Oklahoma (29-8) had crushed Villanova in December by 23 points. Villanova's second-half total alone (53) would've been enough to win the game, as the Wildcats scored 25 unanswered points.

"Got whipped in every way," Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger said.

"I feel bad for Oklahoma," Wright said afterward, on the floor. He was not gloating. "We've all had those nights."

Oklahoma's Buddy Hield had been the star of this NCAA tournament. But in the first half Saturday he went more than 15 minutes between baskets. Perhaps an even greater indicator of the Wildcats' defense: For an eight-minute span, he didn't even attempt a shot.

Villanova used all five positions to guard him, at different points. He couldn't find space.

Hield made the first basket of the second half, then didn't score again. He finished with nine points, and made one of eight three-point attempts.

Villanova, he said, was "throwing a bunch of bodies at me." He called the Wildcats "one of the best teams I've ever played in college."

The mood in Oklahoma's locker room was funereal.

"Everything fell apart, even when we got stops," Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins said

Forward Khadeem Lattin sat with his head in his arms. He politely requested not to do any interviews until he saw his mom.

Down the NRG Stadium hallway, Villanova's celebration was muted.

"It feels good," guard Josh Hart said. "I wouldn't mind it on Monday."

The Wildcats do not have a player like Hield, but they do bring a deep, versatile lineup. On Saturday, it was Hart's turn. The former sixth man made 10 of 12 shots for 23 points. Forward Kris Jenkins scored 18 with eight rebounds. Six players scored in double figures.

The first half was dominant enough. The lead changed 11 times early. Then Villanova turned relentless. The Wildcats made two thirds of their baskets, which seemed disappointing only in hindsight. Their biggest run was a mere 12-0 as they took a 42-28 lead.

Oklahoma actually mounted a run early in the second half. Early on, the Wildcats' lead was in the single digits. In the huddle, Villanova's players snapped at each other, challenging themselves to answer.

They did, with a 25-0 run over almost six minutes.

The run began with a broken play. Hart lost his dribble at the foul line. He pivoted, turned, twisted, then flung a fadeaway as Hield contested. It went in.

Seconds later, Jenkins lobbed a pass that would make Brian Hoyer, who plays quarterback here for the Texans, jealous. From under Villanova's basket, he hit Mikal Bridges on the other side of the court. Bridges threw down a dunk, with a foul. On the next possession, Booth splashed in a three-pointer.

"I mean, they're just throwing it up there, and everything was falling for them," guard Isaiah Cousins said. "I just figured that they pretty much had the game."

The sequence was the backbreaker. Oklahoma had all but given up.

And Villanova still had 17 unanswered points to go on its march into the record books.

Boomer Sooners

'Nova Nation

A year later Villanova's 'Piccolo Girl' has come to terms with her NCAA tournament social media fame

Villanova Pep Band piccolo player Roxanne Chalifoux performs with The Roots last year on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." (Douglas Gorenstein / NBC)
Villanova Pep Band piccolo player Roxanne Chalifoux performs with The Roots last year on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." (Douglas Gorenstein / NBC)

Piccolo Girl was among the last to know she’d become “Piccolo Girl.”

At some point while Roxanne Chalifoux was playing in the Villanova band that day, a year ago, her phone died. It was just as well. Villanova had just been upset in its second NCAA tournament game. Chalifoux was crushed.

Afterward, she was commiserating over dinner when highlights of the game flickered on. She didn’t want to watch.

Then someone shouted, “That's you on TV!”

And there she was, on “SportsCenter.” Chalifoux was dutifully playing the piccolo as tears welled and rolled down her cheeks. The camera lingered, Chalifoux tightly framed.

Chalifoux had gone viral. She was all over Twitter. She was on highlight shows. She was Piccolo Girl.

Syracuse vs. North Carolina: How the teams match up

Syracuse seniors Trevor Cooney (10) and Michael Gbinije (0) are playing in their second Final Four, this time with the formidable task of playing North Carolina on Saturday. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)
Syracuse seniors Trevor Cooney (10) and Michael Gbinije (0) are playing in their second Final Four, this time with the formidable task of playing North Carolina on Saturday. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

WHO: No. 10 Syracuse (23-13) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (32-6)

WHAT: NCAA Final Four, Saturday, 5:49 p.m.

WHERE: NRG Stadium, Houston. TV: TBS; Radio: 710.

UPDATE: Syracuse has been to nine Final Fours. Its senior class alone has been to two. Its coach, Jim Boeheim, is second on the Division I wins list. The Orange aren't a typical Cinderella team. But that's what they are. Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four after mounting a 14-point second-half comeback against Virginia. Despite its seeding, Syracuse is not wanting for talent. Boeheim's signature 2-3 zone defense is swarming — Syracuse is fourth nationally in steal percentage. Playing against it is a slog — Syracuse's average defensive possession is the longest in the nation. The matchup could give North Carolina trouble. The Tar Heels prefer to pound the ball into the paint — 6-foot-9 forward Brice Johnson leads the team with 17.1 points per game — rather than rely on shooting. The team makes just 32% of its three-point attempts, and only six teams in the nation get a lower percentage of their points from three-pointers. One exception could be Marcus Paige, whose shot has come alive in the tournament. He made six of nine three-point attempts against Indiana. For Syracuse, Michael Gbinije paces the offense, averaging 17.6 points a game. Only four players in the nation log more minutes. He has scored in double digits in every game this season. Malachi Richardson is also dangerous. He scored 21 points in the second half against Virginia. The Tar Heels have been to four Final Fours under coach Roy Williams and 19 overall, the most in NCAA history. North Carolina won the teams' first two meetings this season, each by fewer than 10 points.

LINEUPS

Starters

Syracuse;Ht;Wt;PPG | Pos | North Carolina;Ht;Wt;PPG

Malachi Richardson;6-6;205;13.3 | G | Marcus Paige;6-2;175;12.3

Trevor Cooney;6-4;195;12.7 | G | Joel Berry II;6-0;195;12.8

Michael Gbinije;6-7;200;17.6 | G/F | Justin Jackson;6-8;200;12.2

Tyler Roberson;6-8;226;9.0 | F | Brice Johnson;6-10;230;17.1

Tyler Lydon;6-9;210;10.2 | F | Kennedy Meeks;6-10;260;9.2

Reserves

Syracuse;Ht;Wt;PPG | Pos | North Carolina;Ht;Wt;PPG

Kaleb Joseph;6-3;180;0.8 | G | Nate Britt;6-1;175;5.7

Frank Howard;6-4;190;1.7 | G | Theo Pinson;6-6;205;4.6

Chinonso Obokoh;6-9;21 | F | Isaiah Hicks;6-9;235;9.1

DaJuan Coleman;6-9;268;4.9 | C/F | Joel James;6-11;280;2.2

Oklahoma vs. Villanova: How the two teams match up

Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) is the Sooners' second-leading scorer at 17 points a game. (Harry How / Getty Images)
Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard (10) is the Sooners' second-leading scorer at 17 points a game. (Harry How / Getty Images)

WHO: No. 2 Oklahoma (29-7) vs. No. 2 Villanova (33-5)

WHAT: NCAA Final Four, Saturday, 3 p.m.

WHERE: NRG Stadium, Houston. TV: TBS; Radio: 710 AM.

UPDATE: No player this tournament has been as electrifying, or seemingly unstoppable, as Oklahoma's Buddy Hield. He scored 36 points against Virginia Commonwealth and 37 points against Oregon, when he made eight of 13 three-pointers. Hield is shooting nearly 57% in the tournament, has drawn praise from Kobe Bryant and brings the highest scoring average (25.4) of any Final Four player since 1990. The pressure will be on Villanova's Josh Hart, who will likely guard Hield, but teams that have focused too much on Hield have suffered — guard Jordan Woodard, who is averaging almost 17 points per game, can also be lethal. Hield and Woodard, plus guard Isaiah Cousins and forward Ryan Spangler, have played 104 consecutive games together. Villanova will again try to make the game "ugly," as the team proudly described its win over Kansas, when it won a grinder of a game with defense and rebounding. Villanova likes that style — its defense is seventh in efficiency. But its offense is even better: fourth in efficiency. Hart leads the team in scoring (15.3 points per game) and forward Kris Jenkins is a tough matchup who can shoot from the outside (he makes 38% of his three-pointers). The Wildcats are on a redemption tour after winning just one game in the last two tournaments. Now, there's another indignity to avenge: in December, Oklahoma rained down 14 three-pointers and destroyed Villanova, 78-55.

LINEUPS

Starters

Oklahoma; Ht; Wt; PPG | Pos. | Villanova; Ht; Wt; PPG

Jordan Woodard; 6-0; 187; 13.0 | G | Jalen Brunson; 6-2; 199; 9.8

Buddy Hield; 6-4; 214; 25.4 | G | Josh Hart; 6-5; 202; 15.3

Isaiah Cousins; 6-4; 200; 12.8 | G | Ryan Arcidiacono; 6-3; 195; 12.3

Ryan Spangler; 6-8; 234; 10.3 | F | Kris Jenkins; 6-6; 240; 13.5

Khadeem Lattin; 6-9; 208; 5.7 | F | Daniel Ochefu; 6-11; 245; 10.1

Reserves

Oklahoma; Ht; Wt; PPG | Pos. | Villanova; Ht; Wt; PPG

Dinjiyl Walker; 6-1; 203; 3.4 | G | Phil Booth; 6-3; 185; 6.6

Christian James; 6-4; 218; 2.9 | G | Mikal Bridges; 6-7; 191; 6.3

Dante Buford; 6-7; 221; 3.6 | F | Darryl Reynolds; 6-8; 225; 3.8

Jamuni McNeace; 6-10; 215; 1.1 | F | Patrick Farrell; 6-5; 200; 0.4

One half by Syracuse's Malachi Richardson made this Final Four special

Syracuse guard Malachi Richardson celebrates after making a three-pointer against Virginia in the Midwest Regional final. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
Syracuse guard Malachi Richardson celebrates after making a three-pointer against Virginia in the Midwest Regional final. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

He walked into Syracuse's locker room Friday, and he was not mobbed.

Malachi Richardson wasn't the most popular player in the room. He might not have been the best one, either. But he was the reason everyone was here.

"A gift from God," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim's wife, Juli, called it, according to the New York Post.

She was talking about Richardson's miraculous second-half performance last Sunday, when he carried the Orange back from the dead and into the Final Four. Richardson rescued Syracuse's season, and also saved this year's roiling, unpredictable NCAA tournament from an orderly, ordinary conclusion.

Instead, the Final Four will be have one No. 1 seed, two No. 2s … and the first-ever 10 seed. (Three No. 11s have made it.)

Syracuse isn't quite a rags-to-riches tale, but it isn't a popular pick here, either. Villanova, in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, is the statheads' darling. Oklahoma has the star, in Buddy Hield. North Carolina's entire lineup is fearsome.

Getting set for tipoff

Final Four: UNC, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Villanova

The NCAA tournament's Final Four are set for Saturday at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Here's the schedule (times PDT):

3:09 p.m.: Oklahoma (West) vs. Villanova (South)

5:49 p.m. North Carolina (East) vs. Syracuse (Midwest).

TV: TBS

Championship game will be at 6 p.m., Monday, April 4

Sunday's NCAA results

ELITE EIGHT

  • No. 10 Syracuse 68, No. 1 Virginia vs. 62
  • No. 1 North Carolina 88, No. 6 Notre Dame 74

North Carolina beats Notre Dame, 88-74, to complete Final Four

Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds to help top-seeded North Carolina reach its 19th Final Four with an 88-74 victory over sixth-seeded Notre Dame in the East Regional final on Sunday night.

The Tar Heels are in the Final Four for the first time since 2009, when they won the national championship. Coach Roy Williams is in the Final Four for the fourth time with North Carolina.

The Tar Heels will play Syracuse at 5:49 p.m. PDT on Saturday in Houston. Villanova will play Oklahoma in the first semifinal at 3:09 p.m.

Demetrius Jackson scored 26 to lead Notre Dame.

North Carolina shot 62% (31 of 50) and turned missed free throws into high-flying dunks to open a 77-67 lead with three minutes left.

The Irish have made some runs that kept the game tight.

North Carolina built some breathing room against Notre Dame early in the second half, but the Irish responded.

Demetrius Jackson keyed a Notre Dame run and the Tar Heels suffered a minor meltdown that aided the Irish run. North Carolina's Brice Johnson was whistled for a foul, then tossed the ball high over his head in frustration and was hit with a technical.

Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia made two free throws to trim Carolina's lead to 51-50. 

North Carolina had pulled ahead of Notre Dame, 43-38, at halftime. The teams combined to make 30 of 49 shots overall and 10 of 16 three-pointers in the first half. 

Notre Dame's V.J. Beachem threw down a baseline dunk that stands among the most eye-popping of the regional rounds.

The only thing better may have been his teammates' reaction on the bench. Shades of the Monmouth bench, the Irish put on a show.

Zach Auguste (see below) palmed his forehead and acted like he had fainted. His teammates wrapped their arms around Auguste and tried to prop him up.

--Associated Press

Syracuse rallies in second half to beat Virginia, 68-62

Syracuse is headed to the Final Four after being one of the last teams to make the NCAA tournament, beating top-seeded Virginia, 68-62, in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday.

Virginia is the third No. 1-seeded team to go down in the Elite Eight round this NCAA tournament.

Syracuse went on a 25-4 run, including 15 straight points, midway through the second half to erase a double-digit deficit and claim a 64-58 lead with 3:27 left.

Malachi Richardson scored 23 points for the Orange, who advance to their first Final Four since 2013 and sixth overall. Syracuse's 15 unanswered points turned a nine-point deficit into a 64-58 lead with 3:27 left.

Malcolm Brogdon hit two free throws for Virginia to make it 64-62 with 27 seconds left, but the Cavaliers simply couldn't wipe out the deficit.

Syracuse's Michael Gbinje made one of two free throws and Tyler Lydon hit two more to make it 67-62 with nine seconds left.

Gbinije and freshman Tyler Lydon each scored 11 points for Syracuse (23-13), while teammate Tyler Roberson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.

London Perrantes scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half for Virginia (29-8), which blew a 16-point lead in the second half. 

Perrantes went on a tear in the first half, nailing five three-pointers as the Cavaliers grabbed a 14-point lead. They were up 16 early in the second when the Orange started to chip away at it.

Syracuse's Tyler Lydon cut the lead to 39-32 with a three-pointer just over five minutes into the half, capping a 9-2 spurt.

Virginia got it back up to double digits before Malachi Richardson nailed another one for the Orange. But the Cavaliers' Malcolm Brogdon answered with one of his own and Darius Thompson hit from long range to make it 51-37.

That made Virginia seven of 17 on thee-pointers. Syracuse was three of 13. 

It's about to go down

Midwest Region: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 10 Syracuse, 3:09 p.m. (TBS)

Virginia guard London Perrantes (32) and teammate Devon Hall celebrate during a win over Butler. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)
Virginia guard London Perrantes (32) and teammate Devon Hall celebrate during a win over Butler. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Before every game, the door knocker comes out, and each of the Virginia Cavaliers takes a turn. While the swings are different for each player, the message is the same.

Just keep going.

“We don't want to take steps back,” junior guard London Perrantes said Saturday. “We want to keep on knocking until the door opens for us.”

The next door for the top-seeded Cavaliers (29-7) leads to the Final Four in Houston, but standing in the way is resurgent Syracuse (22-13) after a late slide almost led to another empty March for the Orange. With Coach Jim Boeheim deftly pulling the right strings on his tricky 2-3 matchup zone, 10th-seeded Syracuse is giving up 53.7 points a game in the NCAA tournament.

The Orange appeared to be in big trouble in the Midwest Regional semifinals against Gonzaga, but used their full-court pressure to rally for a 63-60 victory and an all-ACC rematch with Virginia on Sunday.

“They're a very disciplined team, and we've just got to be smart defensively and offensively, as well,” said Michael Gbinije, who scored 20 points against the Bulldogs, including a go-ahead layup with 22 seconds left.

The Orange visited Virginia on Jan. 24, and the Cavaliers used a strong finish to secure a 73-65 victory. Syracuse trailed 49-48 with 5:58 to go before Malcolm Brogdon hit consecutive 3-pointers to help Virginia pull away.

The Cavaliers shot 56.8% from the field in their third consecutive victory against the Orange. It was the highest shooting percent against Syracuse since North Carolina State shot 57.7 percent in the Orange's 88-72 victory on Dec. 17, 2011.

“It's a good zone. You have to be able to attack it in different ways,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “You have to knock down some shots. The ball has to move, you have to dent it off the dribble, get on the glass, different kinds of things.

"I just think I have the guys that have the right spacing and the right mindset, and these are the guys who have made the shots and made the plays.”

--Associated Press

East Region: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 6 Notre Dame, 5:49 p.m. (TBS)

Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson is trapped by North Carolina's Joel Berry II, left, and Marcus Paige, during a semifinal game of the ACC tournament on March 11. (Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)
Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson is trapped by North Carolina's Joel Berry II, left, and Marcus Paige, during a semifinal game of the ACC tournament on March 11. (Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

The day before North Carolina and Notre Dame were to meet for a berth in the Final Four, the talk around the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia was about a game played two weeks ago.

That would have been the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, a 78-47 victory for North Carolina over the Fighting Irish. A 31-point blowout just 15 days ago.

“I misplaced it,” Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said about the tape of that game. “Those are the ones that you burn, you don't go back to. But certainly you have to learn from it, and we've talked about it a little bit in practice.”

Since that loss, Notre Dame has become the comeback kids of the NCAA tournament. The Fighting Irish have trailed in the second half of all three of their games and two have come down to the final seconds.

“They're playing at a really high level right now. But I think we are as well,” Notre Dame forward Steve Vasturia said. “So especially with one day to get ready for them, we're so familiar with what they do and they know what we do. So I think mainly for us just going out there and focusing on what we do best and playing with nothing to lose and that should be good enough for us.”

The matchup between top-seeded North Carolina (31-6) and sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-11) in the East is just one of two all-ACC regional finals. In the Midwest, top-seeded Virginia meets 10th-seeded Syracuse, guaranteeing the ACC a team in the national championship game.

North Carolina players look to another matchup the Tar Heels had with Notre Dame that turned the season around. On Feb. 6, the Fighting Irish won at home, 80-76, and the Tar Heels say that second half is what turned things around for them. They have gone 12-2 since that loss.

“First thing we've learned is that defense wins championships. We've really played well defensively especially at the end of the first half and beginning of the second. And that's basically what we learned mostly out of that game,” said Brice Johnson, North Carolina's leading scorer (16.8) and rebounder (10.5). “We can't let up on them because they're a very good team and they will make runs during the game. And that's pretty much it.”

This is North Carolina's 26th regional final, and the Tar Heels have gone on to the Final Four a record 18 times, the last in 2009 when they won the most recent of their five national championships.

This is Notre Dame's seventh regional final. The Fighting Irish won once, its only Final Four appearance in 1978.

--Associated Press

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