KANSAS CITY - You never want it to end this early. Especially when you're not that far removed from some really long NCAA Tournament runs. And on a day when two other Big 5 teams already won, one in the game right before yours, and you're trying to complete an unprecedented city trifecta.

But the reality is, without winning its regular-season finale against Georgetown, Villanova's third win over a Top 5 team this season, it isn't even in the Madness for the eighth time in 9 years. And when you're coming off a 13-19 disaster that tied a program record for losses, well, you just don't want to fall too far off the radar.

None of that will make these Wildcats (20-14) feel any better about what went down Friday night at the Sprint Center, when they lost to eighth-seeded North Carolina (25-10) in the second round of the South Regional, 78-71, a week after being beaten by Louisville by 19 in the Big East quarterfinals.

Still, the way they went out at least should make them realize just how far they've come. There was growth. A lot of it. That's the lasting impression.

How many teams come back from 20 down against the Tar Heels? Thought so. But after 13 minutes, it was 32-12. And CBS already was thinking about Sunday afternoon's UNC-Kansas rematch from last year's Elite Eight. You always want Roy Williams, who got his 700th victory on his second try, going against his old team. Except somebody forgot to tell Villanova.

The Wildcats scored the last eight points of the first half, to close within 37-29, at intermission. With a little less than 14 1/2 minutes remaining, they took their first lead since 4-3. The Heels, who lost in the ACC final to Miami, were back up by eight with a little less than 4 minutes to go, after hitting five straight jumpers, including three from three-point range. But the Wildcats kept coming, because they just don't know any other way.

So was it really any shock that they scored the next seven, to make it 67-66 on two free throws by JayVaughn Pinkston at 2:14? But Carolina's Marcus Paige nailed another three, and the closest Villanova got after that was two.

"It hurts right now," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, who did one of his better jobs getting this group as far as it got. "But I'm really proud of this team. I'm proud of the effort. They never quit. They've done that all year.

"They've got a great love for one another. They're tough guys, who have faith in what we do. I kept saying, 'This is a long game, keep grinding.' And that's what they did. They battled."

March isn't about moral victories. But the Wildcats didn't just go away, which would have been easy to do. And if Ryan Arcidiacono's trey at 22 seconds had gone in instead of going in and out, it would have been a three-point game and maybe who knows?

"We should have played 40 minutes," sophomore Darrun Hilliard said. "We paid for it. We're a way better team than what we were. We know we're better than that team."

It would have been nice to advance in this thing for the first time since 2010, but you had a feeling when the matchup was set on Selection Sunday, it might not be in the Wildcats' best interests, given what North Carolina does well and what they don't. But you play whom they tell you to and try to make the best of it. As Wright said, he wasn't complaining. This time, it just didn't work out. But if nothing else, he has four starters, three of whom will have at least two seasons left, who can say they were here. That should count for something. We'll find out.

This was the third time these teams had met in the tourney in 9 years. For the third time, the guys in light blue won, just like that controversial 2005 Sweet 16 game and the 2009 national semifinal.

Pinkston, a sophomore forward, led four double-digit scorers with 20, to go with eight rebounds. Hilliard had 18 and six. Mouphtaou Yarou, in his final game, had 17 and eight.

UNC got 23 from P.J. Hairston, on 7-for-11 shooting. James McAdoo (6-for-12) had 17, Reggie Bullock 15 and Paige 14. They went 24-for-49 from the field, 11-for-21 from the arc.

"That's what they do," Wright said. The Wildcats were 27-for-61 and 4-for-21. It's hard to win when the other team gets 21 more from deep.

But for a while, it looked as if this town hadn't been so good to Philadelphia since the 1980 World Series. But Williams is 23-0 in the round of 64 for a reason.