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Villanova gave its all, but fell short

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Villanova did what it does every game. It tried. But trying wasn't enough against North Carolina on Friday night, and although the Wildcats made it more of a game than the Tar Heels wanted, they didn't complete the Philly sweep of second-round NCAA tournament games.

Villanova's Ray Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston walk off the court
after losing to North Carolina. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Villanova's Ray Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston walk off the court after losing to North Carolina. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Villanova did what it does every game. It tried.

But trying wasn't enough against North Carolina on Friday night, and although the Wildcats made it more of a game than the Tar Heels wanted, they didn't complete the Philly sweep of second-round NCAA tournament games.

Down by 20 in the first half, Villanova fought back to take a one-point lead midway through the second but couldn't keep the outcome from slipping though its hands in the final minutes.

So, it won't be three for the show come Sunday, when Temple and La Salle will be playing for a berth in the Sweet 16 round. By then, the Wildcats will be home and wondering if anything could have changed what happened Friday night.

"They did what they do well, and we couldn't stop it," coach Jay Wright said. "They had 11 [three-point baskets], and we had four. That was the key to the game. Right now it hurts. But I'm proud of this group."

The Wildcats were a long shot to make any tournament at one stretch of this season, before upset wins over Louisville, Syracuse and Georgetown improved their resume and made them one of eight Big East representatives in the NCAA tournament.

"Our guys hung in," Wright said after the 78-71 loss to North Carolina. "They've done that all year. They have a great love for one another and are tough guys."

Everything that Wright feared about this matchup came true in the first 13 minutes of the opening half as the Tar Heels shot excellently from the perimeter, forced turnovers and romped out to a 32-12 lead.

The Wildcats have many strengths, but they have weaknesses as well, and those unfortunately are perfectly suited for North Carolina. The Tar Heels have an array of three-point shooters, and their four-guard alignment likes to hawk the ball and take it away.

North Carolina, getting open looks at the basket on nearly every possession, made 10 of its 15 shots, including five three-pointers in building the big lead. Villanova, meanwhile, was getting one shot at best, and too often getting none as the Tar Heels forced turnovers and took off the other way.

As bleak as it looked with seven minutes to play in the half, it brightened for Villanova as it went on a 17-5 run to cut the deficit to just eight points at halftime, 37-29. It was good for locker room morale, but the Wildcats needed more than just that. They essentially needed to change their entire personality, which is difficult to do in March.

"For whatever reason, to start the game we were just a step behind," Wright said. "We'd make the right pass, but someone didn't come to the ball. We didn't do a good job on their three-point shooters early. We finally settled in and started to execute our game plan. But you can't get down by 20 to a team like Carolina. They're too good and too smart and too well-coached. They're not going to give it back you."

That, however, is just what Carolina did. The Wildcats defended the perimeter better, and the rim got smaller for the Tar Heels. The energy it took for Villanova to get back into the game is probably what guaranteed that it couldn't hold onto it, though.

For a while, there was more than just a chance. When Villanova came all the way back to get within a basket, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was so unhappy with his starters that he yanked all five of them at once and let them sit and think about the game for a few possessions.

That's not a win, and it's not something to put in a trophy case, but when you have frustrated a guy with 700 wins on his resume, it isn't nothing, either.

Wright said before the game that his team didn't need to do anything differently, it just needed to do what it can do better. That sounded a lot easier than it turned out to be.

"I thought we were good enough to win this game, but we didn't play as well as they did tonight," Wright said.

Three for the show would have been fun, but it will have to be just two this time. Villanova made it this far and there's something to be said for that. The Wildcats weren't expected to do that well. In the end, they did what they do. They tried, and that will have to be enough.

at bford@phillynews.com,

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