COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN’S TOURNAMENT : North Carolina Slides Through Back Door, Beating Arkansas : East Regional: Tar Heels win, 80-74, to advance to game against Cincinnati for berth in Final Four.
A point behind with a minute to play, Arkansas lost track of North Carolina guard Donald Williams and lost an excellent chance for advancement in the NCAA basketball tournament, the Tar Heels winning Friday night’s East Regional game, 80-74.
Finding a back door to the Arkansas defense open for an uncontested layup, Williams wrapped up the 14th victory in the last 15 games for the Tar Heels, who will play Cincinnati here Sunday for passage to the Final Four.
Williams scored the winners’ last nine points.
His game-breaker came with 42 seconds remaining and was anything but a breakaway. North Carolina appeared ready to spread out the offense and use one of Coach Dean Smith’s signature four-corner stalling tactics when George Lynch spotted Williams sneaking behind a defender and cutting alone to the basket.
The play was diagramed by Smith during a timeout in a rare bit of daring. Lynch’s back-door pass was perfect and put the Tar Heels on top, 77-74.
Robert Shepherd’s traveling violation turned over the ball with 23 seconds to play, forcing the Razorbacks to foul and ending any hope for a team that had made 11 three-point baskets.
North Carolina (31-4) was led by Lynch’s 23 points and 10 rebounds. Williams scored 22 for the Tar Heels, who are trying to reach the Final Four for the 10th time, ninth under Smith.
“They made the big plays at the end, and that’s the difference between being good and being real good,” said Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson, whose team bowed out at 22-9.
Good or real good, the Razorbacks played them straight up.
The game was even at halftime, 45-45, and was still a standoff at 69-69 with 6 1/2 minutes left. That’s when a shot by North Carolina’s Brian Reese gave his team a lead it never relinquished.
Williams began being shuttled between the court and the bench, Smith removing him for defensive purposes. The coach sent the 6-3 senior back in with 4 1/2 minutes remaining, however, when Lynch bloodied an elbow diving for a loose ball.
Williams promptly was fouled and made two free throws for a 73-69 lead. Then Lynch came right back in for him.
Arkansas’ roly-poly freshman, Corliss Williamson, got his 245 pounds off the ground for a thunderous dunk 18 seconds later, bringing the Razorback bench and 19,761 Brendan Byrne Arena spectators to their feet.
Not a starter, Williamson made all seven of his shots and cut a popular figure with the crowd, reminding many of the 300-pounder of Arkansas seasons past, Oliver Miller.
A two-point game again, it could have been tied after Williams missed a 15-foot jump shot, but Arkansas, abandoning its usual breakneck approach to the game, used up all 45 seconds of the shot clock only to fire up a shot that missed the rim with 2:32 to play.
Williams, nearly stripped of the ball, retrieved it and made a brave 18-footer that had his coach wincing with discomfort when it went up. That gave Carolina a 75-71 edge that was comfortable for only a few seconds, until Darrell Hawkins hit a three-pointer with 1:06 remaining.
North Carolina called time out. Smith had 51.7 seconds to play with and instructed his players to go for a shot, rather than kill as much time as possible before the shot clock expired.
Nine seconds into the play, Lynch noticed Williams, no Arkansas player within 10 feet of him. At 6-feet-8, Lynch had a good view of the floor, and he snapped the pass to Williams for the game’s final basket.
“It was a play Coach Smith designed for that particular situation,” Lynch said, attempting to convince listeners. “I really don’t want to give away any of the secrets.”
Williams’ version: “We just spread out and let it happen.”
Smith’s coaching strategy is so familiar to his Arkansas counterpart Richardson by now that the Razorbacks were fooled and lulled into a costly nap, having been warned that North Carolina was about to go into its trademark “four-corner” offense. Having lost to Richardson-coached teams twice, Smith believed this no time to be predictable.
“We drew it up,” Smith said. “It’s a play we use at times specifically in this kind of situation. And, I think they expected (Eric) Montross to get the ball.”
Montross, the Tar Heels’ 7-foot center, had been conspicuously quiet during much of the game, trying only eight shots in 37 minutes. He scored 15 points.