By LARRY VAUGHT
If North Carolina and Kentucky both win three games, the two traditional powers could meet in the NCAA Midwest Region final for a berth in the Final Four. Remember it was just two years ago that Kentucky lost 75-73 to North Carolina in the South Region title game and the Tar Heels went on to win the national title.
Now North Carolina is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region and UK is the No. 2 seed.
“It’s special to be a No. 1 seed. The most special thing is to see the way our kids reacted when they saw our name as a No. 1 seed and they put North Carolina up there. I just love the way they were genuinely excited. They’re kids,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
“We’ve enjoyed some good moments, and we’ve had some difficult ones like the one against Duke in the ACC Tournament or Virginia or Louisville. But at the same time, I love the excitement.
“When I decide to retire, which hopefully is a few years down the road, I’ll look back on 13 No. 1 seeds and feel good about it. But for now, I’ve got my team, we’re playing in the NCAA Tournament and people think we’ve had a pretty good year.”
Kentucky had a bad loss to Duke to start the season. North Carolina had a similar type loss to Michigan, a No. 2 seed in the West, in November that Williams still has not forgot.
“I was really discouraged, because I didn’t think we competed, which always irritates me more than anything. We didn’t play well, we didn’t compete, we had no fire, no energy, no enthusiasm. That was a low point, there’s no question,” Williams said. “But I didn’t think about way down the line. I just wanted to play a heck of a lot better in our next game and start to get better each and every day.”
He wasn’t a lot happier when the Tar Heels got ripped at home by Louisville.
“Two things that jump out at me when I look at the losses, particularly at Michigan and Louisville at home—I didn’t think we were ready to play. I think we just waltzed out there and thought it was going to be easier than it was really going to be, and then both teams hit us right in the mouth and we went back in reverse,” Williams said. “We gave in. I think both games, we were embarrassed with our effort, intensity, brain and how involved we were.
“The Virginia loss, if there’s one-tenth of a second more at the half we’re going to have two extra points when Coby [White] lays it up when it’s not a shot clock violation … those are pretty important points. That loss was pretty disheartening because it was at home. We’d already lost one at home and I didn’t want to lose any more. But the Michigan and Louisville games, I feel like we didn’t come ready to play. And part of that is on my rear end, too.”
Now he has his team getting ready for NCAA play and a possible encounter with Kentucky, a team that beat North Carolina in December.
“We have to respect everyone and fear no one. Gotta be ready to play the first day. If you play your tail off the first day, perhaps they’ll let you stay around and play somebody else,” Williams said. “The great teams we’ve had that have won the national championship or made a big, big run to get into the Final Four, those practices in the NCAA Tournament were our best practices of the year. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
My guess is that is exactly the same way Kentucky coach John Calipari is approaching practices this week as he hopes he can get his team to the Midwest Region final and take on North Carolina or anyone else for a chance to get back to the Final Four.