- Associated Press - Friday, March 27, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - North Carolina got the quick pace it wanted and the defense it needed against 7-foot Frank Kaminsky.

The Tar Heels just couldn’t keep it going for 40 minutes.

They led much of the game only to end up losing 79-72 to top-seeded Wisconsin in the West Regional semifinals Thursday night.

Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson scored 15 points each for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-12), who got within one on consecutive 3-pointers by Marcus Paige with 54 seconds left.

Wisconsin (34-3) made all eight of its free throws over the final 42 seconds. Sam Dekker scored a career-high 23 points and Kaminsky added 19 as the Badgers advanced to the final eight of the NCAA Tournament.

“Our initial defense was pretty good despite a couple lapses,” said Paige, who finished with 12 points. “It was pretty strong, pretty intense the entire game. We just couldn’t get enough finishes in terms of getting rebounds.”

Carolina led most of the second half until a 9-0 run by the Badgers. The Tar Heels closed within one on a 3-pointer by Jackson and a free throw by Johnson with 4:21 left. The Badgers missed a shot, chased down the rebound and tossed it to Josh Gasser, who hit a devastating 3-pointer.

Carolina never recovered.

“Justin and Marcus and those other guys, they made some big plays, we just didn’t make enough of them,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “When it’s a one-point game, you don’t go to sleep at night. You think about that missed rebound opportunity.”

Zak Showalter came off the bench to score six points in the Badgers’ 19-7 comeback run that sent them into the West Regional final Saturday against No. 2 seed Arizona, which beat sixth-seeded Xavier 68-60.

The teams shot exactly the same - 46 percent - for the game, but the Badgers improved to 58 percent in the second half and made 20 of 23 free throws to keep their hopes of a second straight Final Four berth alive.

The Tar Heels were trying to reach a regional final for the first time since back-to-back appearances in 2011 and ‘12. They appeared to have the game in hand when they were up by seven and Kaminsky went down after getting hit in the right eye by Isaiah Hicks.

“Honestly, I feel like overall defensively it was one of the best games we’ve had,” Johnson said. “We had some lapses, but I can’t complain about the way we played defense.”

The Badgers launched the 19-7 run that put them back in front, 65-60. Kaminsky quickly returned to hit a 3-pointer, and Showalter scored four straight, including a layup off his own steal, putting the red-clad Wisconsin fans in full-throated cheers.

Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks returned from a sprained left knee last weekend to bother Kaminsky early before getting in foul trouble.

Trailing by one, the Tar Heels outscored the Badgers 14-6 to take their largest lead, 53-46. Berry and Hicks had four apiece while the Badgers struggled to make a shot.

Kaminsky got hit in the eye by Hicks on his layup that ended Carolina’s run.

Neither team led by more than five points in the first half, when Carolina shot 50 percent.


North Carolina: The Tar Heels got outrebounded, 35-28. … Their bench outscored Wisconsin’s reserves, 22-10. … Johnson had four fouls. … Alums Rick Fox, Antawn Jamison and Eric Montross chatted at halftime.

Wisconsin: Dekker shot 10 of 15 for a career high in field goals made. … G Traevon Jackson returned after an 18-game absence due to injury, and scored four points. … Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was in the house, along with Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Crystal.


North Carolina: Season over.

Wisconsin: Plays either No. 2 seed Arizona or No. 6 seed Xavier on Saturday.

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