North Carolina used its size and experience to hold off Arkansas' youth and quickness last night for an 80-74 third-round victory. The Tar Heels will play Cincinnati in tomorrow's regional final at the Meadowlands Arena.
Fourth-seeded Arkansas dropped in 11 three-pointers, one short its seasonal high, and the last came from Darrell Hawkins with 1:06 left and cut the Tar Heels' lead to 75-74. It was the only points the Razorbacks scored in the final four minutes, however, North Carolina's zone was harder to solve than Arkansas' pressure.
North Carolina went to the chalkboard for the clinching basket, as Donald Williams went back door on the right baseline and took a pass from George Lynch for a 77-74 lead with 43 seconds left.
"We designed the play thinking they [Arkansas] were thinking we were going to [Eric] Montross," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith, referring to his 7-foot center. "I don't draw plays too often, but I thought maybe we better draw this one."
Williams, who scored the Tar Heels' last nine points, then made three of four free throws, and North Carolina was one win away from its second Final Four in three years and the ninth of Smith's 32-year career.
"They [North Carolina] made the big plays at the end, and that's the difference between being good and being real good," Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said.
Senior Lynch, the freshman star when North Carolina threw a third-round scare into Arkansas in 1990, had game-high totals of 23 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Williams had 22 points and Montross and Brian Reese combined for 28 points and 16 rebounds. The Tar Heels out-rebounded Arkansas 45-31, but the most telling statistic might have been Carolina's 12 turnovers, the second-lowest figure forced by Arkansas this year.
Arkansas shot better from three-point range, 45.8, than it did inside the stripe, as freshman forward Corliss Williamson was the only Razorback to successfully venture into the lane. He had 12 of his 16 points in the second half.
North Carolina (31-4) had a 68-61 lead on Reese's foul-line jumper with 9:18 left, but Williamson, who missed 13 games with a foot injury in December and January after being the top high school forward in the nation a year ago, powered his way for three baskets in a three-minute span that got the Razorbacks (22-9) a 69-69 tie with 6:26 left.
Reese beat Arkansas' pressure for a basket, and Derrick Phelps, coming in when Lynch left with a bloody elbow, made two free throws for a 73-69 Carolina edge with 4:24 left. Williamson and Reese got the only baskets in the next three minutes, as Arkansas went three possessions without a good shot.
Arkansas made eight three-pointers in the first half, three by sophomore Clint McDaniel, who came in hitting just 27.7 percent from beyond the arc. He nailed one from the left corner with 9:49 left, giving the Razorbacks a 25-14 lead.
The Tar Heels made up the difference in less than three minutes, as Lynch's lay-in finished a 14-3 roll that forced a tie at 28 with 6:44 left. Another McDaniel three-pointer made it 38-31, before North Carolina rallied to keep it tied at the half.
Besides Williamson's 16 points, Arkansas got 12 points from Scotty Thurman, another freshman, 12 from McDaniel and 13 from senior point guard Robert Shepherd. The Razorbacks spoke of jumping all over Phelps, but he had seven assists and only one turnover.