North Carolina edges way into Sweet 16 with 72-65 comeback against Arkansas
FINAL: UNC 72, Arkansas 65
No. 1 seed North Carolina edged out a 72-65 win against No. 8 seed Arkansas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in Greenville, SC Sunday night to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Tar Heels (29-7) lost a 17-point lead late in the first half and were in a tight game, barely trailing or tied with the Razorbacks for much of the second half. But Arkansas made its last shot of the game with 3:28 to play. North Carolina took its first lead since 13:43 in the second half with 1:44 left in the game on Isaiah Hicks’ free throws, then Kennedy Meeks’ tip-in with about half a minute to play helped UNC hold on to the win.
3:43 2nd: UNC 60, Arkansas 63.
7:56 2nd: UNC 55, Arkansas 58. UNC is down 58-55 at the under-eight minute timeout. The Tar Heels are staying in the game when they feed the post, but are 4-of-15 from three-point range. Joel Berry Justin Jackson are a combined 4-of-22 FG.
11:31 2nd: UNC 48, Arkansas 48: North Carolina trials at the break for the first time all game, but Nate Britt will shoot two free throws after the break with a chance to tie things back up.
15:56 2nd: UNC 44, Arkansas 42: Arkansas’ 7-0 run has the team within two points of UNC, 44-42, at first timeout of the second half. The Tar Heels go to timeout with their slimmest lead of the game, after opening with a three-pointer to start the game.
HALF: UNC 38, Arkansas 33: North Carolina led by as many as 17 points late in the first half, but an Arkansas run has the game within 5 at halftime.
“We lost our poise, We have to regain our poise,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said.
Arkansas closed the half 6 for their last 6 from the floor and are shooting 42 percent to this point. Daryl Macon leads all scorers with 12 points.
Berry and Meeks each have 8 points for UNC. The Heels are out-rebounding Arkansas 27-19 and have turned 10 turnovers into 17 points.
3:35 1ST: UNC 32, Arkansas 17: Arkansas is up to 10 turnovers (5 of which came in a stretch of 4:47). UNC has turned those into 17 points. The Tar Heels are also leading the rebounding 26-17 as this has been a completely 1-sided game.
Joel Berry and Tony Bradley are leading the way with 7 points each.
11:58 1st: UNC 16, Arkansas 8: Joel Berry was a question coming in, he is in fact in the lineup tonight against Arkansas and has already hit a 3-pointer ad the Tar Heels lead Arkansas 16-8 at the under-12.
Justin Jackson has also hit a three and UNC has turned three Arkansas turnovers into seven points.
Arkansas is just 4-15 from the field (27%) and 0-5 from deep.
Pregame: North Carolina is at its best when the Tar Heels are pushing the ball upcourt in a go-go-go pace, one that frequently has opponents desperately trying to slow things down.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Sunday’s second-round game in the South Regional. Arkansas is just as eager to play fast — even if that’s a prospect that thrills the top-seeded Tar Heels.
“We don’t want it to be chaotic to where we’re just making turnovers and making bad plays,” UNC point guard Joel Berry II said Saturday, “but if they want to speed us up, I mean, that plays right into our hands.”
The Tar Heels (28-7) meet the eighth-seeded Razorbacks in Greenville, South Carolina, one of the day’s three matchups in the South bracket. The games also include second-seeded Kentucky against Wichita State — likely underseeded at No. 10 — in Indianapolis while No. 3 seed UCLA faces No. 6 seed Cincinnati in Sacramento, California.
UNC rolled past Texas Southern in its first step toward a season-long goal of returning to the Final Four after losing to Villanova in last year’s title game. The Tar Heels next face the Razorbacks (26-9), who finished strong in the final minute to edge Seton Hall and has won nine of 11 games.
Most teams don’t try to run with the Tar Heels, often sending multiple players back to slow transition attempts instead of crashing the boards. Just don’t expect Arkansas coach Mike Anderson — an assistant to Nolan Richardson during the Razorbacks’ famed press-and-trap-heavy “40 Minutes of Hell” era — to be one of them by having his team grinding out time-killing possessions.
“We’re going to worry about what we do,” Anderson said. “But I’m sure (UNC coach Roy Williams), he’s not going to change. We’re not going to change. I mean, you do what got you here to the dance.”
The Tar Heels rank fifth nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings (122.1 points per 100 possessions) behind Atlantic Coast Conference player Justin Jackson (18.1 points) and Berry — who is nursing an ankle injury.
The Razorbacks rank 26th (116.7) in those KenPom stats with a balanced attack led by Dusty Hannahs (14.6 points), Daryl Macon (13.3), Jaylen Barford (12.9) and Moses Kinglsey (12.1).
“It gives you a little more confidence,” Jackson said of knowing it should be a fast-tempo game. “You can just go out there and play.”
Here are things to watch in the South bracket Sunday:
HEALTH AT THE POINT: Berry rolled his right ankle against Texas Southern and Williams said he was “hopeful” that Berry would be ready but he didn’t practice Saturday. Berry, the team’s No. 2 scorer at 14.5 points per game, said he was “75 to 80 percent” but sure sounded like he plans to play.
Meanwhile, UCLA star freshman Lonzo Ball is OK after taking a hard foul in Round 1 when he was undercut and landed on his hip. Coach Steve Alford said he expects Ball to be near 100 percent Sunday.
ROUND 2: Three years ago, Wichita State was an unbeaten No. 1 seed tripped up by an underseeded Kentucky team in the second round. Could the roles be reversed Sunday?
The matchup features the two longest winning streaks left in the tournament. Wichita State (31-4) has won 16 straight games, while Kentucky (30-5) has won 12 in a row behind high-scoring freshman Malik Monk.
“I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of the Shockers-Wildcats pairing. “They’ve got quite a sense of humor, then, don’t they — those guys in that room? The bottom line is the only two guys that remember that game (in 2014), other than you media people, are Coach (John Calipari) and I. Everyone else is new.”
BRUINS’ ROLL: The Bruins (30-4) are averaging a national-best 21.6 assists per game entering the matchup with the Bearcats, the most by any team since Kentucky averaged 21.8 on the way to the 1996 title.
Ball leads the country at 7.6 per game, while UCLA finished with 25 assists on Friday against Kent State behind 11 from Aaron Holiday.
BEARCATS’ MILESTONES: Mick Cronin’s Bearcats (30-5) reached the 30-win mark for the second time by beating Kansas State in Friday’s first round, joining their 2001-02 team. A win against UCLA will match that team’s school record for wins while getting the Bearcats to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012.
AP Basketball Writer John Marshall in Sacramento, California, and AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25