KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The losses to Kansas aren’t getting any easier for North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Of course, they aren’t getting any harder, either.
Every loss in the NCAA tournament stings, and that’s why Williams can recall in vivid detail just about all of them, going back to his own days leading the Jayhawks — and why he’ll certainly remember Sunday night’s second-half meltdown against the school he once coached.
“No, it is not any more painful,” Williams said, shortly after his eighth-seeded Tar Heels lost to the top-seeded Jayhawks 70-58 in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“The fact that I coached here for 15 years is extremely important to me,” Williams said, “but it doesn’t add anything to today. I hurt for my kids in the locker room. The NCAA tournament, the swiftness with which your season ends is dramatic, and it hurts everywhere.”
Perhaps the location and opponent don’t matter, but the manner in which it happens does.
The Tar Heels (25-11) scrapped and clawed and fought their way to a 30-21 lead at the break, only to watch Kansas roar back behind seniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, seizing control midway through the second half and then pouring on the pressure down the stretch.
“It was definitely a nightmare in the second half,” Williams said, “no question about it.”
Withey had 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Releford finished with 22 points for the Jayhawks (31-5), who also knocked Williams’ team out of the NCAA tournament during their 2008 title run and again last season, when Kansas marched all the way to the Final Four.
The Jayhawks wound up outscoring North Carolina 49-28 after halftime, advancing into the South Regional semifinals against fourth-seeded Michigan on Friday in Arlington, Texas.
“We weren’t ourselves at all the first half. We were sped up and played nervous and timid and everything, and they beat us to loose balls, and they totally controlled the first half,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I thought the second half we played, really, really well.”