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Tar Heels reach Final Four behind May, McCants

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- No one sacrificed more than Rashad McCants
to make sure North Carolina got back to the Final Four. So it was
only fitting that he made the plays when the Tar Heels needed him
most.

The star guard, no longer the team's leading scorer this year
while accepting a more team-oriented role, swished a clutch
3-pointer and had two huge defensive stops down the stretch,
leading top-seeded North Carolina past Wisconsin 88-82 Sunday in
the final of the Syracuse Regional.

Sean May led the Tar Heels (31-4) with 29 points and 12
rebounds, and Raymond Felton added 17 points -- including four free
throws in the final minute to seal it. But it was McCants who did
the most to end a marvelous run by the sixth-seeded Badgers (25-9)
and send the Tar Heels to the Final Four for the first time since
2000.

They will play Michigan State, which beat Kentucky 94-88 in
double overtime, next Saturday in St. Louis. The game will start 40 minutes after Louisville takes on Illinois at 6:07 p.m. ET on CBS.

With North Carolina clinging to a three-point lead, McCants
jumped high to swat away a 3 by Clayton Hanson with about 2 minutes
left, Hanson's only miss of the second half from beyond the arc.
Later, when Kammron Taylor drove to the basket, McCants again was
there to stop him.

"I knew they were going to come at me," McCants said. "I took
that as an assignment and shut him down."

Wisconsin closed within three again on an alley-oop dunk by
Alando Tucker before McCants made his 3-pointer, coming off a
screen by Marvin Williams to give North Carolina an 81-75 lead. He
finished with 21 points.

That proved to be enough, and when the final buzzer sounded,
McCants and Felton spent several seconds embracing in the lane
while teammates quickly donned hats that read "Syracuse Regional
Champions."

Coach Roy Williams advanced to the Final Four for the fifth time
in his career; after four trips with Kansas, he's taking his alma
mater in only his second season there.

"It's special, there's no question about it," Williams said.
"I loved 15 years at Kansas. I loved those four times there. But I
did go to school here, my wife went to school here, my son went to
school here and my daughter went to school here. It is special."

One by one, he sent his players up a ladder to cut down nets on
both ends of the court. He did the same when North Carolina
clinched its first outright Atlantic Coast Conference
regular-season title since 1993, choosing to ignore any criticism
for celebrating before the NCAA Tournament.

No one could blame him this time.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," May said. "It just didn't
seem real. The emotions were indescribable. You have to go through
it yourself."

Tucker scored 25 points for the Badgers, who -- despite their
reputation for steady and methodical offense -- never once tried to
slow the pace. They scored more than 80 points for only the third
time this season and the first since Dec. 27.

Still, they stayed close throughout, led by Tucker and the
shooting of Hanson, a former walk-on. He scored 15 points -- all on
3s -- after averaging only 6.2 coming into the regional.

"Any time the season ends like this, it's emotional," Hanson
said. "Five years down the road, I'll be proud of it. But, right
now, it stinks."

Hanson's final points came with 8:48 left, nailing a jumper
after Mike Wilkinson passed out of a double team. That cut the Tar
Heels' lead to 68-67, and although Wisconsin never led down the
stretch, the margin never was greater than five until the final
seconds.

Wilkinson scored from the baseline with 3:52 remaining to bring
the Badgers within a single point, and after Felton clanged a
3-pointer off the rim, Wisconsin had a chance for the lead. But
Taylor missed from the lane and May was there for the rebound,
leading to two free throws from Marvin Williams to make it 76-73.

That's when Hanson tried again to tie it, and McCants made sure
he didn't.

"I was in the right place at the right time," he said.

The leading scorer in the ACC last season as a sophomore,
McCants' average went down more than four points to 15.8. His shots
are way down and his assists are up -- he has more assists than
turnovers for the first time in his career. He was first-team all
conference in the ACC last year; his junior year he slipped to
third-team all conference.

Meanwhile, May has become the No. 1 offensive option. The burly
center certainly was that in this victory, shooting 13-of-19 to
reach double figures for the 19th straight game.

In 14 of those, he's also grabbed at least 10 rebounds, an
incredible stretch that led to him being selected second-team
All-America.

"There's not a lot of guys built like him, and he knows how to
use his body," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "If the big man
isn't scoring, he's not going to get the ball."

Game notes
Wisconsin reserve C Greg Stiemsma scored two points in the
first half, his first points since finishing with a career-high
four against Michigan on Feb. 16. He was in for three minutes after
playing less than one combined in the previous five. ... Tar Heels
F Jawad Williams had two layups in less than a minute in the second
half, both off passes from May, and finished with six points after
totaling only three in the previous two games.