Color The Tar Heels Mighty Blue As Utes Win Again With Defense

North Carolina fans like to brag that the Almighty is a Tar Heel fan. How can they tell? By the Carolina-blue color of the sky. Well, paint this town red.

That’s the color worn by the too-slow Utah Utes, whose amazing romp through the NCAA Tournament continued with a 65-59 upset of North Carolina on Saturday night in the Alamodome.

Pedigree took a pasting in this one. The Tar Heels have more banners, more NBA draft picks, more former coaches on a first-name basis with greatness.

And what does Utah have, besides great skiing? Only a buzzsaw defense and a coach who bears more resembalance to a pumpkin than Cinderella. At a time when Armani-attired coaches strut the sidelines, Utah coach Rick Majerus is a roly-poly Joe Schmoe who washes his cream-colored sweater once a month, whether it needs it or not.

All of which makes the Utes the perfect poster children for the 1998 NCAA Tournament, which served up two more helpings of amazing basketball in front of 40,509 in the Alamodome. First, Kentucky edged Stanford 86-85 in overtime. Then the Utes worked their magic.

“We were playing so hard, and we rebounded really well,” Majerus said. “I thought our guys played their hearts out. We were opportunistic, and we played great defense. This is tremendous.”

Majerus sweated as the Tar Heels whittled a 16-point lead down to two in the final 2 minutes.

When Carolina’s slithery guard, Ed Cota, slipped into the lane and dropped in a 10-footer, Utah’s lead was only 57-55.

But the Utes wouldn’t fold. And now they have a chance to earn their first national title since 1944.

In a game that bore a haunting similarity to last year’s national semifinal loss to Arizona, North Carolina shot its way right out of the tournament.

As the Tar Heels shot free throws, the Utah cheerleaders chanted, “The ball is bigger than the basket.”

They were right.

The reason: Utah’s defense.

UNC came into the game shooting 52.2 percent from the field, the highest percentage in the nation. But Carolina missed nine of its first 10 shots and went 4 minutes without a basket midway through the first half. The Heels shot 30 percent from the floor in the first half.

Utah 65, North Carolina 59

Utah (30-3) - Mottola 2-9 4-6 9, Jensen 3-4 0-0 7, Doleac 6-11 4-7 16, Miller 7-15 2-7 16, Hansen 1-1 2-2 5, Jackson 0-2 0-0 0, McTavish 1-2 0-0 3, Johnsen 3-7 0-0 7, Caton 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 24-54 12-22 65.

North Carolina (34-4) - Okulaja 3-8 0-0 7, Jamison 7-19 0-2 14, Ndiaye 0-3 0-2 0, Cota 4-9 0-0 8, Carter 10-16 0-1 21, Sha.Williams 2-12 2-2 7, Haywood 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 27-69 2-7 59.

Halftime-Utah 35, North Carolina 22. 3-Point goals-Utah 5-17 (Jensen 1-1, Hansen 1-1, McTavish 1-2, Johnsen 1-2, Mottola 1-4, Doleac 0-1, Jackson 0-1, Caton 0-2, Miller 0-3), North Carolina 3-23 (Carter 1-4, Okulaja 1-5, Sha.Williams 1-9, Jamison 0-1, Cota 0-4). Fouled out- Ndiaye. Rebounds-Utah 39 (Miller 14), North Carolina 42 (Jamison 12). Assists-Utah 14 (Miller 7), North Carolina 14 (Cota 7). Total fouls-Utah 15, North Carolina 19. A-40,590.

xxxx ON TV Monday: Kentucky (33-4) vs. Utah (30-3), 6 p.m. (CBS)

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