BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Maybe now North Carolina's bench will come out of the shadows.
Pressed into service in last night's Southeast Regional final, the Tar Heels' reserves came through in a big way in the 74-61 win over Kentucky.
Serge Zwikker, a 7-foot-2 sophomore, gave Carolina five points and four rebounds filling in for foul-plagued Rasheed Wallace. Freshman guard Shammond Williams gave Carolina some valuable minutes at guard when Donald Williams turned his ankle. And Pearce Landry filled in capably for Dante Calabria when Calabria twisted his right knee in the first half.
All told, four Carolina reserves outscored Kentucky's more celebrated bench, 12-11. Kentucky's bench shot 3-for-21 to Carolina's 4-for-7.
"Everybody's been talking about our depth all year," said Carolina All-American Jerry Stackhouse. "The bottom line is, everybody stepped up tonight. Serge gave us some big minutes for Rasheed.
"I think the theory we don't have any bench is out the window now."
Removing the roadblock
Three previous times, Dean Smith's Tar Heels had been sent to the Southeast Regional and failed to make the Final Four. Previous Southeast bids came in 1985, 1989 and 1992. Last night the drought ended.
The Tar Heels haven't played Arkansas this season, but they split the season series with Virginia, winning, 79-76, in Chapel Hill, N.C., and losing, 73-71, in Charlottesville, Va.
A critical flaw
Kentucky coach Rick Pitino gave Smith credit for seeing what no other opponent saw this season, that the Wildcats' Achilles' heel was their outside shooting.
"Dean was the only coach who knew that," Pitino said. "Our biggest weakness all season has been our perimeter game. We didn't have anybody besides Tony [Delk] who could shoot outside."
Even Delk shot badly last night, hitting seven of 21, including five of 14 from three-point distance.
Pitino said the 9-for-34 first-half shooting performance affected his players. "I believe the players did lack confidence in the second half," he said. "Without question, they started to press."
The Tar Heels put three players on the all-tourney team, headed by Stackhouse as the Most Outstanding Player. He was joined by Wallace and Donald Williams, Delk from Kentucky and Allen Iverson of Georgetown. . . . Kentucky's 61 points represented a season low. Previously, its low was 68 points in a 20-point win over Tennessee. . . . The crowd of 17,721 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center was the largest to see a basketball game there. . . . Carolina leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 16-6. Smith is 13-3 against the Wildcats and has won past six. . . . Smith is 10-4 in regional finals. . . . Pitino is 11-4 in NCAA tournament play at Kentucky, and 15-6 overall. . . . Kentucky had 38 rebounds, 19 on the offensive end, where every shot was an adventure. Carolina totaled 43 rebounds. . . . Stackhouse hit 11 of 14 free throws and the Heels converted 22 of 28 overall. . . . With 1:10 left, the Carolina crowd -- outnumbered by nearly 10-to-1 -- chanted, "SEC, SEC" at the Kentucky fans.