It was a textbook North Carolina victory, but Kansas was the author.
In yet another unexpected NCAA tournament twist, the Kansas clones defeated the North Carolina classics, 79-73, in Saturday’s semifinal and--dare anyone say it?--the student, former Tar Heel assistant Roy Williams, outcoached the mentor, North Carolina legend Dean Smith. Williams and Kansas earned the right to face Tar Heel archrival Duke in Monday’s final.
All it took was one look at the Hoosier Dome scoreboard, where Kansas’ victory against North Carolina glowed brightly, to see that Williams had learned well. If nothing else, he was around to see the end of the game, something Smith can’t claim.
With 35 seconds remaining, referee Pete Pavia called a second technical foul on a stunned Smith. That meant an automatic ejection--only Smith’s third in 30 years and 926 games.
The offense? According to Smith, it was asking Pavia how much time he had left to talk with a substitute player.
“I asked three times and he didn’t answer me,” Smith said. “Well, he answered me with a tech.”
Jim Delany, chairman of the NCAA tournament basketball committee and a guard for Smith’s North Carolina teams in the late 1960s, had a slightly different interpretation. Simply put, Smith left the coaches box, a no-no.
Too bad, because Williams deserved to have his old boss there at game’s end, when a proper congratulatory handshake could have been given. Instead, Smith stopped at the Kansas bench on his way out and did what he could. He quickly shook hands with Williams, gave him a brief hug and then clasped hands with the Kansas assistants and reserves. The gesture earned him an ovation, even from the Jayhawk players.
“My game was over,” Smith said.
For all intents and purposes, so was North Carolina’s. A miracle was possible, but highly improbable. Smith admitted that much. North Carolina trailed, 76-71, but was out of timeouts. Kansas, he said, was clearly in control.
“First of all, I don’t want in any way to take away from Kansas’ great victory,” said Smith, a Kansas alumnus.
And this later from Smith: “Kansas deserved to win. We helped them with our impatience, and that’s my fault.”
Smith was right: his ejection wasn’t the reason Kansas won. Nor can the entire North Carolina loss be blamed on a lack of patience. This was a triumph of wills and of Williams’ knack to adapt the Tar Heel way to Kansas personnel.
This was Williams’ moment, pure and simple. For 40 minutes Saturday, he conducted his own chess match with Smith. It was an odd sight, both coaches essentially trying to exploit weaknesses in a system that Smith created and Williams stole.
In the end, Williams best recognized the subtleties of this particular game.
When North Carolina (29-6) went deep into its bench, so did Kansas (27-7). The Jayhawks’ reserves, led by freshman Richard Scott’s 14 points, outscored those of North Carolina, 25-13.
And when some of Kansas’ key players, including Alonzo Jamison, found themselves in foul trouble, Williams improvised. Smith wasn’t as successful in similar situations.
And when the Tar Heels’ Rick Fox, who had played well throughout the tournament, went up for a shot, Williams made sure that his defense was prepared. Fox finished five for 22 from the field, with 13 of those misses coming in the second half.
“Oh, I was so open so often,” said Fox, who ended his North Carolina career. “Ten- and 12-footers that wouldn’t fall. This was just so exasperating. This will stick out in my mind a long time.”
Time and time again, North Carolina made strong second-half runs--at one point, cutting the score to 58-57 with 7:08 to play.
“The single best way I can describe this team is its competitiveness,” Williams said.
As for his matchup with Smith, Williams could only manage a half-smile. In the regionals, Kansas and Williams faced another legend, Knight, and won decisively.
“And I answered by saying I also have a great deal of respect for Bobby Knight,” Williams said. “But I don’t think it took away from our preparation.”
Early on, Kansas didn’t look as if it would survive the first half, to say nothing of the game. North Carolina had a 24-15 lead halfway through the period and appeared ready to dispose of the Jayhawks without much fuss.
Fox, as he had done throughout the tournament, led the early Tar Heel scoring burst. His three consecutive baskets helped turn a tight game into a questionable one. But Fox didn’t score another point the rest of the half.
Kansas began to whittle away at the Tar Heel advantage. It wasn’t especially pretty but it worked, thanks mainly to Mark Randall and Mike Maddox, who will win no awards for poetry in motion.
The two forwards were mostly responsible for a 10-0 Jayhawk run that saw Kansas finally overtake North Carolina, 32-29, with 4:22 left in the half. And a Randall tip-in ended another 7-1 Kansas run that built the Jayhawks’ lead to 39-30 with 1:48 left. In all, Maddox and Randall accounted for 10 of those 17 points.
At halftime, Kansas still held the nine-point lead, 43-34.
Still, Williams admonished his team to do better.
“I told them, ‘Let’s not give them too much respect. The reason you’re here is that you’re good, also,’ ” Williams said.
It worked. Nearly everything Kansas did Saturday worked.
In a fitting conclusion to Kansas’ victory and, in a way, a tribute to Smith, the Jayhawks rid the clock of the last few minutes by resorting to a vintage Tar Heel classic: the four-corners offense. It only seemed right.