DETROIT - One by one, the Villanova seniors walked to the bench. Dwayne Anderson fouled out. Dante Cunningham followed him 33 seconds later after picking up his fifth foul. Then Wildcats coach Jay Wright took out Shane Clark and hugged him.

The three seniors were instrumental in the Wildcats' giddy run through the NCAA tournament. But last night, 'Nova ran out of magic against the high-octane offense of North Carolina.

The Wildcats strived to come from behind for practically the entire game, but their drive into the Final Four ended in the national semifinals with an 83-69 defeat to the Tar Heels before a record crowd of 72,456 at Ford Field.

The top-seeded Tar Heels (33-4) moved into tomorrow night's championship game against Michigan State, which defeated Connecticut, 82-73, in the opener. North Carolina is seeking its fifth national title.

After the loss by Villanova (30-8), no Big East team will be involved in the championship game. Four teams from the conference had advanced into the Elite Eight.

The Wildcats could pin this loss on their offense. They shot only 32.9 percent from the field and made only 5 of 27 shots (18.5 percent) from three-point range.

"We've been getting better every game, but we did not get better this game," Wright said. "There are a number of reasons, but the main reason was that we played a better team tonight. There's nothing wrong with hurting, and there's nothing wrong with failure. We gave it everything we've got."

After they had narrowed a 17-point first-half deficit down to five, 50-45, in the opening moments of the second half, the Cats missed 11 consecutive shots from the field - five of them coming on one incredible possession in which the lid never came off the basket - and the Tar Heels wrested back control with a 9-0 run.

"It definitely was getting frustrating," said Cunningham, who finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds but did not score in the second half. "It was hard. We were definitely getting shots but they were falling out. We had to do it on the defensive end, but we didn't get it done."

The Wildcats, who had a 53-48 rebounding advantage, kept the Tar Heels below their average of 90 points entering the game, and limited them to 9-of-29 shooting (31.0 percent) and 34 points in the second half. But 'Nova did not make nearly enough shots to put a dent in the deficit.

Scottie Reynolds led the Wildcats with 17 points but shot only 2 of 8 in the second half, 1 of 6 from distance. Corey Fisher made only 5 of 19 field-goal attempts in the game. Anderson was 2 of 12 and missed all six of his shots from beyond the arc.

Carolina, meanwhile, knocked down 11 of 22 three-point shots. Former Episcopal Academy star Wayne Ellington and Danny Green combined for nine of them.

Ellington finished with 20 points, second behind Ty Lawson's 22 for the Tar Heels.

"We didn't do a good job getting to their three-point shots," Anderson said. "I couldn't hit a three to save my life. Coach always says even if you miss, you have to stay with it. You have to have confidence to keep shooting."

The Wildcats trailed by 40-23 with seven minutes left in the first half but limited Carolina to 2-of-9 shooting the rest of the way and were down by only 49-40 at the break. A three-pointer by Reggie Redding and a jumper by Clark made it 50-45, and the Villanova fans in the cavernous stadium finally were being heard.

But then the Wildcats' drought began, and Carolina capitalized. Tyler Hansbrough (18 points, 11 rebounds) finished the 9-0 run with a free throw, giving the Tar Heels a 59-45 lead with 14 minutes, 31 seconds to play.

Villanova never got closer than 10 the rest of the way. Ellington's three-point basket with 4:44 to play gave Carolina its biggest lead, 75-57, and the Tar Heels safely rode out the final minutes.

The Wildcats shot 26.3 percent in the second half.

Carolina coach Roy Williams said he told Wright after the game that he would be back in the Final Four someday.

"I love Jay's club and what he's done," Williams said. "He's gotten that team to play well and pull together. I said to Jay he's going to be back. He's a great coach."

Wright might be back, but his seniors won't be. The class including Cunningham, Anderson, Clark, and Frank Tchuisi won a school-record 102 games, including 30 this season, another new school mark.

There was a lot of sadness in the locker room after the game.

"These past four years have been unbelievable," Cunningham said. "Being here, we were excited. We took a business approach but we came up short. But this is tough. This is hard."

Said Anderson, "It's very difficult, not only for myself but for the seniors because it's our last game in a Villanova uniform. It's something that won't sink in for a while. But we just never quit."

Redding added 15 points for the Wildcats and Fisher had 13.