Jayhawks again send Heels packing
His career at North Carolina over, Dexter Strickland tracked down the person most responsible for ending it.
The senior shooting guard shook the hand of Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey and told him: “I couldn’t get over you.”
Withey dominated UNC’s small starting lineup with 16 rebounds, five blocks and countless altered shots. The Tar Heels have usually compensated from outside, but Withey’s presence allowed the Kansas guards to push up on UNC’s 3-point shooters, knowing the center could clean up if the Tar Heels drove.
In the end, the No. 8-seeded Tar Heels (25-11) shot a season-low 30.1 percent from the field and lost 70-58 to No. 1 Kansas in the Round of 32 in Kansas City.
All five UNC starters struggled. The team’s lone big man, sophomore James Michael McAdoo, shot 5-of-19. Leading scorer P.J. Hairston missed his first seven shots and finished 6-of-17. Reggie Bullock matched a season low with five points. Freshman point guard Marcus Paige had more turnovers (4) than assists (3). And Dexter Strickland was 3-of-9, including an airballed layup when he saw Withey coming.
“When I got in the lane, I think I was a little too worried about the shot blocker instead of taking it right to his nose and going straight up at him,” Bullock said.
It didn’t matter as much in the first half, when Kansas matched UNC’s offensive ineptitude.
Kansas went seven minutes without scoring to fall behind 14-4; the Tar Heels missed 12 straight shots in five minutes to let the Jayhawks get within one. The Jayhawks shot 25 percent in the first half, its worst shooting performance in a half in 135 NCAA Tournament games, as UNC led 30-21 at the break.
But Kansas is first in the nation in field-goal percentage, and its intensity stayed consistent throughout the game. UNC let up a little in transition, got lost on a few rotations, and the Jayhawks capitalized. Kansas went 5-of-8 from behind the arc and also had 10 dunks, layups and tip-ins in the second half.
“I think from an overall effort standpoint, the first half is probably the hardest we played all year,” Paige said. “Everyone was invested. We were flying all over the place. Even if we made mistakes defensively, we usually were able to make up for them, hustle. We got a lot of the 50/50 balls.
“In the second half, they got out in transition a couple times. They got second-chance opportunities. From there, it just kind of kept going.”
Kansas took a 29-8 run to start the second half and led by double-digits for the final 10:32. The Tar Heels got within 10 with 5½ minutes left, but Naadir Tharpe took a stepback 3-point attempt at the end of the shot clock — UNC assistant coach Hubert Davis yelled “We’ll take that” from the bench — and made it to end the threat.
“The first half, everything was good as gravy,” Bullock said. “But when we just faced a little adversity coming the first six to eight minutes of the second half, it just went downhill from there.”
Hairston was about to take an open 3-point shot when he fumbled the ball. He then failed to secure a pass from Bullock, causing him to raise his arms in exasperation as Bullock slumped down in despair.
An arena almost completely full with Kansas fans — the school is 45 miles away, and the Jayhawks went 8-0 here this season — didn’t provide UNC with any encouragement.
“As soon as we came out, they were booing us,” Strickland said. “In the lineup, we couldn’t even hear our names being introduced.”
Kansas led by 17 with 1:06 remaining when both coaches replaced their starters. McAdoo jogged to the bench, even telling backup center Joel James about his defensive assignment. Hairston trudged slowly, with his hands on his head.
UNC coach Roy Williams fell to 0-3 against his former team in the NCAA Tournament, including last year’s loss in the Elite Eight. Friday, he was celebrating his 700th career win, jumping up and down with the team after a win over No. 9 Villanova. Two days later, there was nothing but disappointment.
“You feel like just a little bit ago we were really high in our emotions with the 700th win,” Paige said. “Even in the first half, we were real happy with the way we played. But then all of a sudden, the season’s over.”
UNC lost four players who were NBA first-round picks from the 2011-12 teams, with Bullock the only returning starter. Kansas has four senior starters, including Withey — who moved into second place in blocks in the NCAA Tournament (43), seven behind Tim Duncan.
The Tar Heels struggled early in the season, as a young team adjusted to new roles. They emerged as a threat when Hairston entered the starting lineup, ensuring a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
But no amount of growth or tinkering with the rotations could get UNC over the hump against upper-echelon teams. The Tar Heels finished 0-8 against teams that made the Round of 32 and failed to make the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in their past 30 NCAA appearances.
“We probably exceeded many people’s expectations outside the program,” Paige said. “But at the same time, we know we had more to give than we did tonight.”
Kansas 70, UNC 58
Percentages: FG .301, FT .800. 3-Point Goals: 6-21, .286 (Hairston 3-9, Paige 2-6, Bullock 1-4, McDonald 0-1, Strickland 0-1). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 1 (McAdoo). Turnovers: 11 (Paige 4, Bullock 3, McAdoo 2, Strickland, Tokoto). Steals: 15 (Paige 5, McAdoo 4, Hairston 2, Tokoto, Strickland, McDonald, Bullock).
Percentages: FG .436, FT .810. 3-Point Goals: 5-14, .357 (Tharpe 3-4, Releford 1-1, Johnson 1-3, McLemore 0-6). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 5 (Withey 5). Turnovers: 22 (Withey 6, Young 5, Tharpe 3, Releford 2, Johnson 2, McLemore 2, Adams, Manning). Steals: 7 (Releford 3, Tharpe, Roberts, Withey, Johnson).
Officials—Pat Adams, Mike Kitts, Michael Greenstein.