The 700th career victory for North Carolina coach Roy Williams is meaningful to him, but another accomplishment holds greater significance.
The victory, 78-71 over ninth-seeded Villanova in an NCAA Tournament game Friday at the Sprint Center, means no Williams-coached team has ever packed its bags after a first NCAA game.
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Friday’s triumph marked the 23rd time in his 25 tournament appearances that Williams’ teams at Kansas and North Carolina didn’t check out of their hotel early on the first weekend.
That beats a milestone any day in Williams’ book.
“You know, I’m human, I wanted to get 700,” Williams said. “I’d like to get 800, 900, 1,000, 1,500. I know that’s not going to happen. My focus was not on that, it really wasn’t. It was trying to have this team stay and play in another game.”
But because the victory occurred in Kansas City, about 40 miles away from the town where Williams started his career, Williams got more questions from local media representatives.
Was there extra meaning winning so close to where your career started?
“We were trying to get No. 25,” Williams said.
Do you remember your first victory?
“Yes, UAA. I got tired of hearing that, UAA! UAA! That was University of Alaska Anchorage,” Williams said.
There were other reminders of Williams’ Kansas days. He appeared to become light-headed after shouting during the season half and had to catch himself from falling while in a crouch. Also, he chastised the NCAA on the postgame podium for an interview order procedure.
The point Williams was making was the victory will be memorable to him because of what the team did on Friday night, especially the final 9 minutes when the Tar Heels got tough and put away a determined Villanova team.
Early on, it came easily for the Tar Heels, who did precisely what the scouting report suggested they would do. Their strength, perimeter shooting, overwhelmed the Wildcats’ weak perimeter shooting defense.
Three-pointers on successive possessions by Marcus Paige and P.J. Hairston started a 15-0 run, and with 7 minutes remaining in the half, the lead had swelled to 32-12.
Then things got strange. Almost as quickly at North Carolina built the edge, the Heels lost it all. The margin was down to 12 at halftime, and before the first media timeout in the second half, Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard scored inside to make it 40-40. The 20-point deficit was erased in 11:04.
“For whatever reason, at the start of the game we were a step behind,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said.
Villanova actually edged ahead on a couple of occasions, but North Carolina fired back, and again it was the deep ball.
Leading 57-52, the Tar Heels got three-pointers on three straight possessions, with Hairston hitting two in front of the North Carolina bench and Reggie Bullock burying his from the opposite corner. Hairston led North Carolina with 23.
“We like to see each other make shots,” Paige said.
The advantage quickly soared to 63-54.
But Villanova wouldn’t go away. Pressure defense forced two North Carolina turnovers, and when JayVaughn Pinkston hit two free throws with 21/2 minutes remaining, the Tar Heels’ lead was down to 67-66.
The deep accuracy once again proved kind to the Heels. Paige hit a three from the wing to restore a four-point lead. The Wildcats didn’t have the ball again with a chance to tie or lead.
And North Carolina moved on, which was the top item on Williams’ priority list.