Fowler: Why UNC lost (and it wasn't just missing Kendall)

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comMarch 25, 2012 

So the Tar Heels' season ended Sunday in the Elite Eight with a closer-than-it-sounded-but-still-very-painful 80-67 loss to Kansas.

Kansas scored the game's final 12 points, breaking open what had been a very good game until the final three minutes. Then it turned nightmarish -- coach Roy Williams used the word "panic" to describe his club in his postgame news conference. Which sounded about right, as one late possession after another ended up in a bad shot or a turnover.

So why did UNC lose? I wasn't in St. Louis -- just watching from home like most of yall -- but here's my take:

1) Kendall Marshall's absence. It wasn't the only reason -- and Kansas certainly might have beaten the Tar Heels anyway -- but it was very big. I don't blame this loss on Stilman White -- the guy had 13 assists and zero turnovers in two games in St. Louis when thrust into a difficult situation. But he was no scoring threat whatsoever, and while that's not White's fault, it hurt.

2) Harrison Barnes' lack of offense. Barnes, simply, wasn't what he needed to be against Kansas. The Tar Heels survived his 3-for-16 off night against Ohio -- barely -- but couldn't do it again vs. a much better Kansas team (Barnes was 5-for-14 and scored 13 points). When Barnes is 8 for 30 combined over 2 games, that doesn't cut it. Whether that was his last game as a Tar Heel remains to be determined.

3) Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. While Robinson gets the headlines and scores more, Withey is Kansas's John Henson -- a shot-blocking threat at all times. He altered several shots, blocked a couple late (while he had four fouls) and had a great weekend. Withey had blocked 10 shots Friday night against N.C. State. They both thoroughly out-rebounded UNC's big men -- UNC's leading rebounder was Reggie Bullock (7), and that doesn't have anything to do with who your point guard is.

4) John Henson's ankle. After hurting his ankle during the game, Henson seemed pretty ineffective on offense (while still OK on defense). He mostly seemed to want to launch 18-footers, which look pretty when they go in but really isn't the shot the Tar Heels want. UNC got outrebounded in the game as Henson and Tyler Zeller simply couldn't do their volleyball act on the offensive boards nearly enough (see reason No.3 as to why). Henson only had 10 points, four rebounds and zero free throws attempted.

5) Second-half shooting. The Tar Heels were on fire in the first half, which ended at 47-all. They shot over 60 percent in the first half and then a horrid 7-for-31 (22.6 percent) in the second. Particularly from three-point range they were awful in the second half. They ended up 11.8 percent from three-point range for the game (an all-time NCAA tournament low for them).

6) Bill Self. Hey, the guy can flat-out coach. He has done one of the best jobs in the country again this season.

There's no coincidence as to why Kansas keeps ending the NCAA dreams of teams from North Carolina (Davidson and UNC in 2008, State and UNC in a 3-day span this year). He got his Jayhawks to guard better in the second half and he goes to another Final Four, while the Tar Heels go home wondering what would have happened had Marshall not fractured that wrist.

Fowler: 704-358-5140

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