Heels hope to avoid an Elite Eight repeat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 29, 2008

By Nick Bowton
Salisbury Post
CHARLOTTE ó North Carolina sophomores Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson experienced more positives as freshmen last season than some basketball players do in an entire college career.
A 30-win season. An ACC tournament championship. A trip to the Elite Eight.
All of that success, however, set them up for a less-pleasant experience. Top-seeded UNC collapsed late in a regional final against Georgetown, blew a 10-point lead, lost to the second-seeded Hoyas in overtime and missed out on a trip to the Final Four.
“We had a bad taste in our mouth for a long time,” Ellington said. “The way we lost that game was just terrible for us. We fought all offseason to make sure we don’t ever lose a game like that again.”
Tonight, one year and five days after that loss, the Tar Heels have a chance to atone for their 2007 tournament collapse.
They’ve reproduced the 30-win season, the ACC championship and the trip to the Elite Eight. And if they beat third-seeded Louisville at Bobcats Arena, they’ll advance to the Final Four for the first time since their 2005 national title.
While accomplishing that feat this season might make up for not doing so last year, the Tar Heels haven’t necessarily used the Georgetown loss as a rallying cry all season.
“I don’t think we played Davidson here the first game of the season and put our hands together and said, ‘Final Eight,’ ” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I don’t think we played the first ACC game against Clemson and started thinking about Georgetown.
“I do believe this: It was motivation for us to work hard in the offseason. But I don’t think that’s what’s driven our club. Now, it may drive our club after last night’s game, but, still, you gotta be great on game day.”
The Tar Heels certainly have to be better than they were down the stretch against Georgetown.
North Carolina led by 10 points with seven minutes remaining in that game. Then the Tar Heels started taking ill-advised shots, stopped playing good defense and watched Georgetown run away with a 96-84 victory.
UNC shot 2-for-23 from the field to end the game. The Hoyas, meanwhile, went 8-for-9 to end regulation and 5-for-6 to start overtime.
The Tar Heels did start three freshmen last season in Ellington, Lawson and Brandan Wright, now a rookie with the Golden State Warriors. Williams said that inexperience had something to do with his team’s meltdown.
“We’re more mature. We’re more experienced,” he said of this year’s team. “The experience has been worth something to us. We’ve played several close games this year, and our team has been very, very tough. Last year in close games, we lost a lot of those games that we won this year.”
The Tar Heels expect another close game tonight, and they all agreed they’ve been using the Georgetown loss as motivation to prepare for a situation like this. Throughout the offseason, they had trouble shaking a “feeling” associated with how their season ended.
“As a player, you just have that feeling when you lose a game you know you’re not supposed to or lose a game that way,” said Ellington, who missed a last-second 3-pointer that would have prevented overtime against the Hoyas. “It’s just a bad feeling.”
It’s one the Tar Heels can erase tonight.
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or nbowton@salisburypost.com.