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Off the cuff: It was an emotional end to the Tar Heels season as Cam Johnson, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams played their last games. And UNC coach Roy Williams thought he let his players down.

"I didn't get my team as prepared as much as Bruce (Pearl) got his team prepared," Coach Williams said. "But he doesn't love his players any more than I do (mine)."

Obviously tinged with hyperbole, Coach Willliams said he would coach this group of players "for nothing."

Immediately after the game, Coach Williams said he told his players than he loved them, that it had been a great season and that he wished he could have helped them more.

This sort of thing happens quite a bit, especially during these days of three pointers. All the teams left are talented and can get hot. Auburn got hot, whether they were covered or not.

Yes, Carolina could have played better and certainly could have shot better (just seven of 28 from three for instance, compared to 17 of 37 for Auburn) but teams, especially blue bloods like Carolina, run into motivated teams that get hot and are tough to defeat.

My guess is that Auburn won't go any further. This is the first time in 33 years that they've gone to the Elite 8. Perhaps their best player, Chuma Okeke, who led all scorers with 20 points, was injured late in the game and appears to be out for the rest of the tournament.

Combine the hot three-point shooting with Carolina having two key players under the weather with flu-like symptoms and it makes for a tall order.

In the press room after the game, Maye and Williams (Johnson was busy throwing up) both felt they didn't guard the threes as well as they could but that Auburn just got hot and kept that momentum going.

The 17 three pointers were the most scored against a Carolina team in the Roy Williams era.

So, TV associates don't get the Carolina-Duke matchup they would have liked. And a new era begins at Carolina as their core is gone. And perhaps more than the core is gone if Coby White and Nassir Little decide to go pro early.

Both would benefit in coming back for another one or two - and so would Carolina.

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That was as good an attack on the zone defense as I've seen a Carolina team accomplish. The Heels moved the ball crisply and found big guys in the lane, who either passed to an open shooter or shot themselves.

And when the Huskies missed, Carolina rebounded. The Heels outrebounded the Huskies 48-24. Washington shot just 38 percent compared to 51 percent for the Tar Heels.

Each team hit nine three-pointers but Carolina did it with 21 shots while it took 29 shots for Washington.

But the big difference came when Maye, Little and, to a lesser extent, Brooks got the ball in the lane.

Little, a yes-sir no-sir kind of guy who made straight As in high school, was not only confident when he got the ball but he was a tad cocky after the game.

"I think that I was really dominating the middle," he said. "Their big men were dropping back in the paint."

That allowed the big men to cleanly get the ball and do something positive with it, fairly close to the hoop.

Coach Roy Williams was encouraging the players to continue to attack the middle of the zone. It kept working.

North Caroina lost out in the NCAAs last year in just the second round. They were determined not to lose time time around.

"We talked about it all summer," UNC's Cam Johnson said.

"To lose the way we did and have Joel and Theo go out that way," he added while shaking his head.

He said they worked hard to get past this point. How much further will the Heels go?

Every game is different and every opponent is so different but the Heels are playing well right now, heading into a game against speedy Auburn where the winner will advance to the Elite Eight.

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Carolina Football: Golden anniversary of a redeeming 50-0 victory over Duke.

Carolina Football: Excerpts from an article on the history of the Carolina-Duke rivalry.

 

Heels' season ends amid raining threes
After an even first half, Auburn blitzed North Carolina with 12 three pointers in 18 attempts in the second half to blow past the Tar Heels 97-80 and end their season in disappointing fashion. (3/29)

The Tigers advance to the Elite 8 after sinking 17 total three pointers and scoring 19 points off 14 UNC turnovers.

After leading by as many as five points in the first half, Auburn scored six straight in the last minute of the first half to take a 41-39 lead at the break.

Surprisingly being outscored in the paint in the first half 24-12, North Carolina actually was in good shape down by just two. The Tar Heels have often come out energized in the second half this season and taken control of games.

Instead, Auburn extended its streak. After two Tiger threes and a two in the first minute and a half on the second half to make it 49-39, UNC coach Roy Williams uncharacteristically called a timeout to try to halt the run.

Carolina cut the deficit to six at 60-54 with 13:39 left after senior Luke Maye hit a hook follow.

But Danjel Purifoy came off the Auburn bench to can three three-pointers in just over a minute to stretch the lead out to 73-57 with just under 10 minutes to go.

If that weren't bad enough, Anfernee McLemore, one of eight different Tigers who hit threes, banked in a wild three to extend the lead to 76-57.

The Tar Heels never got closer than 10 the rest of the way. While Coach Williams refused to use it as an excuse, it must be said that grad senior Cam Johnson, Carolina's leading scorer, was playing sick as was freshman Nassir Little, who had been Carolina's best player in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Williams said that Little, who had two potential dunks blocked, didn't have the lift he normally has and that Johnson was "just not the same Cam."

Johnson was throwing up after the game. Both players had fevers earlier in the week.

Nonetheless, Johnson scored 15 points but hit only two of seven three pointers. Freshman Coby White also tallied 15 but he was an even worse zero of seven from beyond the arc. Seniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams, who was especially distraught when the outcome became obvious, rounded out the double figure scoring with 13 and 10 points.

The Tar Heels end the season 29-7 despite winning 17 of their last 20 games with the other losses coming to teams that were No.1 in the nation at the time - fellow ACC foes Virginia and Duke.

Box score


UNC's Cam Johnson fought sickness to score 15 points. (UNC Sports Information photo.)

Maye, Little bust zone as Heels advance
Luke Maye and Nassir Little found holes in the middle of the defense as each scored 20 en route to an 81-59 shellacking of Washington to advance to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. (3/24)

The Huskies, winners of the Pac-10 regular season, packed into a zone from the start. UNC's Coby White loosened the zone with four threes over a five-minute period in the first half. And then Maye, Little and others attacked the middle.

"The key today was getting it to the middle - that was a soft spot," said UNC's Cam Johnson, who had a team-high seven assists.

When Maye got it, he tended to turn quickly and hit short or mid-range jumpers. When Little got it, he tended to attack the rim and elevate over the defenders for baskets.

"Luke is an intelligent player who finds the holes in the zone really well," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "Nas is gifted around the basket."

He said Little uses his quickness, leaping ability and power to cause opponents' problems. "He can hurt a lot of people inside," Coach Williams said.

Little, who comes off the bench, got a little more playing time than usual as Garrison Brooks spent several minutes in the locker after getting his mouth busted. He had to have stitches and lost a tooth on a play where the offender wasn't even charged with a foul.

After Little put in a follow shot, was fouled and hit the free throw, the Heels had their biggest lead of the first half at 34-20.

Carolina led only 41-33 at the half though as the Heels went through a turnover stretch. The Heels had 10 turnovers, including five out of eight possessions at one stretch.

In the second half, the Heels cut the turnovers in half and shot over 50 percent from the field.

The Huskies, who relied heavily on the three-point shot (they had only three two-point field goals in the second half), briefly cut the deficit to five in the first half. But then, the Heels went on a 13-0 run that set the tone for the second half and all but did in Washington.

Johnson started the stretch with a three from the right corner and then hit a baseline jumper. After Maye hit a three, trailing the fastbreak, the Huskies called a timeout. But it didn't slow the Heels as Brooks bounced an assist to Maye and then Maye hit a 10 footer in the lane.

After White sunk a free throw, Carolin had its biggest lead to that point at 18, 54-36.

It never got closer than 12 from then on out as the Tar Heels worked the lead up to ask many as 25 points.

Joining Little and Maye in double figures were White, who had 17, and Johnson, who had 13.

The Tar Heels, now 29-6, play Auburn Friday evening. Washington, led by Nowell Jaylen's 12 points, ends the season at 28-7.

Box score


UNC's Nassir Little elevated over Washington defenders all day. (UNC Sports Information photo.)

2018-19 UNC Season Preview

Read about any UNC basketball game since 2007-2008
Other old archived headlines:
2012-2013 UNC basketball season preview
2010-2011 season began with Late Nite with Roy

ESPN blows it - What were they thinking?
Read about UNC's 2010 football bowl win
Readers weighed in on Tar Heels' 2009-2010 troubles
Shorthanded Heels get big game from freshmen in opener
Season Review: UNC baseball had one of its best years in 2008
Carolina basketball's run ends after comeback falls short
Tar Heels run out of gas against Fresno State
Season Review: Carolina ends season where it wanted - in Omaha

Flack does it in the clutch again as Tar Heels fight on
Federowicz heroics keep UNC alive in College World Series
Carolina in the College World Series again
UNC is one win away from third straight trip to the World Series

Carolina baseball advances to host Super Regional starting Saturday
Heels defeats UNC-Wilmington 7-3 with five-run inning
UNC's wins over Miami vault Heels to No. 1 in the nation
Carolina baseball reaches 40-game win mark
Tar Heels take two of three from Florida State

Also, check out my articles for the UNC alumni Web site on Carolina's 8-4 win over LSU, the 5-3 loss to Fresno State, the 7-3 win over LSU, the 4-3 victory over Fresno State and the season-ending loss to Fresno State.

© 2018 CB3media Cary, NC

Barnes

Heel Prints reviewed each UNC game
As a student sports editor years ago, prior to the season, Clifton Barnes predicted a national championship for the Tar Heels and indeed they won. In fact he wrote his lede paragraph for the national championship game almost a year early. He regrets that he didn't keep a journal after each game. He kept a journal after each game of the 2007-2008 season and you can reach them here. At the request of readers, he has kept up his journal of each game ever since. He also has written about UNC baseball and wrote an analysis after each 2008 UNC football game.

 

Editor's Note: HeelPrints chronicled the UNC basketball, baseball and football seasons for 2008 and 2009. Since the vast majority of comments I get about the site relate to basketball and since this isn't a paying job for me, I decided to limit my coverage and analysis to basketball. Baseball and football will remain archived and if I have comments or opinions I want to make on those or any other sports at UNC, I will make them here on the front page and then archive them in the corresponding sports section. Thanks for all the positive comments I have received about the site. Should I get sponsorship in the future, I will reconsider adding baseball and football again. Ironically, my favorite sports to watch in person are baseball and football. But my first connections to UNC came from watching Dean Smith's basketball teams on TV or listening to them on the radio in the days before all the games were televised. It should come as no surprise that people pay more attention to the basketball coverage. Thanks for your interest in this site.