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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wildcats vs. Wildcats for NCAA Title


INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana --The giant killers struck again, slaying another No. 1 seed, laying to rest a few more doubters.

Arizona, the only non-No. 1 seed in the Final Four, the team that knocked off NCAA Tournament favorite Kansas last weekend, ended North Carolina's season with a 66-58 win. The team that nobody -- neither the basketball-world experts nor the office-pool pundits -- picked to make it to the Final Four is now in the first championship game in school history.

Arizona will face defending national champion Kentucky, which beat Minnesota, 78-69, on Saturday night.

North Carolina was held under 60 points for only the fourth time this season, and Arizona (24-9) is the only team to beat the Tar Heels (28-7) twice this year.

This was 40 minutes of wild swings and streaky shooting. North Carolina was up 15-4 early in the game, running just one designated play to perfection: the alley-oop. Arizona coach Lute Olson called a 20-second time-out when the Tar Heels were up 13-4, and when the Wildcats returned to the court they were quickly greeted with a Vince Carter dunk off -- guess what -- an alley-oop. North Carolina center Serge Zwikker ran down the court after that play with his index finger thrust in the air. It was, needless to say, grossly premature.

"I was a little concerned when I looked up and saw 15-4,'' Olson said. "But I saw no fear in their eyes. Our guys did a real good job of getting Carolina overconfident in the first 10 minutes. But it's indicative of the heart and hustle these guys have.''

Arizona shot 33.3 percent from the field. North Carolina, which had shot 50 percent or better in 10 of its last 12 games, was held to a season-low 31 percent for the game and a miserable 28.2 percent in the second half. It tells you all you need to know about why Arizona won by such a large margin, despite hitting just one field goal in the final four minutes.

A struggling Kentucky dug down deep in search of something extra against Minnesota and, again, did just enough to survive.

"We've had to overcome so much this season,'' said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, whose Wildcats were hit hard by graduation and injuries. "We're not last year's team, but I've never coached a team with this much heart in my life -- and I mean that.

"We're tired and we're banged up, but these guys just keep digging in and playing aggressively. It's remarkable. We just keep coming and coming.''

Kentucky threw everything it had at Minnesota (31-4), but these Gophers wouldn't stay in the hole.

"They are an incredibly physical team, probably the most physical we've played all season,'' said Kentucky guard Anthony Epps, who had 13 points and seven assists. "It's real hard to keep them off the boards.''

The struggle peaked when, with 8:24 left, Minnesota tied the score. Ron Mercer, who had 19 points, was fighting leg cramps and Kentucky had foul problems, but the Wildcats summoned what they needed and went on a 14-3 run over the next 4:16. A 3-pointer by guard Cameron Mills gave Kentucky a 68-57 lead, and Kentucky never looked back.

So next up is the Wildcats vs. Wildcats. Mercer said he doesn't have much left, but said he has enough for one more game.

"We've got a chance to do something a lot of people never get a chance to do,'' said Mercer, a sophomore who has already declared for the NBA draft. "I want to be remembered for going out and winning two national championships.'' (T)