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March 23, 2008

Tar Heels advance to Sweet 16 with blowout

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina coach Roy Williams had said repeatedly over the last few weeks that a building has never won a game for him.

While that might be true, his top-seeded Tar Heels looked plenty comfortable 25 miles from home as they cruised to their second-straight blowout win in the NCAA Tournament.

Carolina's second-round victim was ninth-seeded Arkansas, which found itself on the wrong end of a 108-77 final score at the RBC Center.

"It doesn't feel like the Dean Dome," UNC point guard Ty Lawson said, "but it's a great place to play."

The Tar Heels (34-2) dominated for the second straight game in NCAA Tournament play on the way to tying the school record for wins.

Carolina had back-to-back 100-point NCAA Tournament games for the first time since 1987 and back-to-back 30-point NCAA wins for the first time in school history.

"We know we're capable of it," said Wayne Ellington, who led the Tar Heels with 20 points. "When we have everyone contributing the way we are, we can do that night in and night out."

Four Tar Heels besides Ellington scored in double figures.

Lawson had 19 points, while Tyler Hansbrough had 17, Deon Thompson had 16 and Alex Stepheson had 10 off the bench.

Carolina shot a ridiculous 73.5 percent in the second half - a season high for any half - and its 67-percent clip for the game was the second-highest ever by a North Carolina team in an NCAA Tournament game.

The Tar Heels also took care of the ball very well, turning it over just seven times while dishing out a season-high 28 assists, their best assist-to-turnover ratio of the season.

They went up by 33 points with 8 1/2 minutes to go in the second half and didn't stop there, eventually building the lead to as many as 36.

For the second game in a row, it was an offense-fest, with the Tar Heels hitting the 90-point mark with a little less than eight minutes remaining in the game and getting over 100 with more than four minutes left.

"I think our play is going up, elevating game by game," Quentin Thomas said. "Things are clicking."

Thomas attributed a lot of the Tar Heels' March success to the trying times the team had with injuries in the weeks leading up to the postseason.

Players with less game experience, including Thomas, were forced to play major roles in big games.

Compared to that, coming off the bench to play a role is a piece of cake.

"When Ty went out, it put pressure on other people to step up their game," Thomas said. "When everyone was healthy, it just helped our team as a whole."

Carolina started the game hot, scoring the first nine points to immediately put Arkansas (23-12) on its heels.

From there, the Tar Heels just kept running, and they enjoyed a 51-26 lead at halftime after leading by as many as 27 in the first half.

It was the second-straight big game for Thompson and Stepheson, both of whom Williams challenged before the start of NCAA play to ratchet up their games.

Thompson was a perfect 8 for 8 from the field, while Stepheson looked perhaps as aggressive as he ever has in a Carolina uniform.

And their frontcourt comrade, Hansbrough, broke the ACC record for career free throws four minutes into the first half.

All in all, the Tar Heels enter the Sweet 16 as a team on fire.

But these 100-point games and 30-point wins haven't gone to their heads, they said. They know this first weekend only gets them one-third of the way to a national championship.

"We're not a complacent team," Thomas said. "We always have a goal we want to reach, and we haven't reached it."


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