It was hit, mostly miss for Carolina NCAA FINAL FOUR


SEATTLE -- "We had a little cold stretch there," Jerry Stackhouse said.

And a few people (38,540) bought tickets to the Final Four semifinals yesterday.

A little cold stretch, he said.

And Dean Smith has won a few (830) basketball games through the years.

To say that North Carolina endured "a little cold stretch" in the second half yesterday is an epic understatement, not unlike saying that Forrest Gump wasn't exactly the brightest kid in his class, or that the baseball strike has been a little bitter.

North Carolina went almost 13 minutes without making a basket in the second half against Arkansas. Thirteen minutes! The peso has done better that.

After Stackhouse's three-pointer from the corner gave the Heels a 50-49 lead with 15:15 to play, they failed on 20 straight possessions to make a basket, falling 11 points behind in the process.

Although there will be much dissection of what the Heels failed to do in the last seconds of their 75-68 defeat at the Kingdome, they lost the game when their offense went so stunningly and completely cold for much of the second half.

"They give you open shots with their high-pressure defense," Smith said, "and with our good-shooting team we figured we could [handle] that. But we didn't shoot well, plain and simple."

Whether it's so "plain and simple" is debatable. We'll get to that in a minute. But what's not debatable is that the Tar Heels were an unlikely candidate to turn in such a high-profile collective brick toss.

They were one of the country's best offensive teams, shooting 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the three-point line, and averaging 85 points a game. Stackhouse, Donald Williams, Dante Calabria and Jeff McInnis could all hit jumpers, and often did.

Yesterday, they all went clank at the same time. Calabria, Williams and McInnis were a combined 11-for-38 from the floor for the game, including 17 missed threes in 24 attempts. Calabria was particularly cold, missing all seven of his threes, five of which came during the long shutout in the second half.

"When we were setting up the last shot [trailing by three points with 27 seconds left] we kidded Dante that we were going to give him the ball because he certainly was due to make one," Smith said. "If you miss every putt on the first 17 holes, you make one on 18."

But Calabria didn't take the possible game-tying three-pointer, Williams did -- and, fittingly, it clanked off the side of the rim.

Why the Heels went so horribly cold in the second half was a subject of some disagreement. Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson insisted that the Carolina players were tired from playing against the Razorbacks' full-court pressure.

"We felt, from watching the tape, that the ACC doesn't play the kind of [up-tempo] basketball we do," Richardson said. "It's more of a half-court league that occasionally fast-breaks. We felt if we could press, jump in and out of things, we could cause some problems."

And . . .

"I think wear and tear took its toll in the second half," Richardson said. "That sometimes creates bad shooting."

Smith didn't care at all for that line of reasoning.

"I don't agree," he said. "I agree that Nolan's team are hard to play against. But our guys are all well-conditioned. And with those long [four-minute] timeouts in the tournament, fatigue isn't a problem. If we were so tired, why did we almost come back [at the end]?"

Said Donald Williams: "No way was [the poor shooting] a matter of being tired. We had the open shots, ones we make, and we just didn't this time. That's what happens in this game."

Yet the Arkansas players insisted it was a conditioning matter. "They got fatigued," Scotty Thurman said. "You could tell when they missed [three] free throws down the stretch."

The missed free throws did keep the Heels from regaining the lead with their late rally, which drew them within one point at 69-68. But the hole they'd dug was just too deep.

So, there was a somewhat shocking end to a fine Carolina season. If the Heels were going to go down last night, it figured that the Razorbacks' depth or balance would do the trick. It didn't figure that the Heels would exit in a shower of bad shots. Not these Heels.

"You need luck to win championships," Richardson said. "I just hope we have one more day of it."

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