No.2 Wisconsin survives No. 4 North Carolina to advance to NCAA Tournament Elite Eight

Sam Dekker scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as top-seeded Wisconsin defeated fourth-seeded UNC 79-72 Thursday night to head back to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight for the second consecutive year, playing the winner of No. 2 seed Arizona versus sixth-seeded Xavier on Saturday.

Senior Player of the Year candidate Frank Kamisnky added 19 points and eight boards for Wisconsin, making all eight free throws he attempted. The Badgers attempted 23 free throws as a team, making 20 of them and their final eight down the stretch.

With the score 60-56 in favor of the Tar Heels and just seven minutes remaining in the game, Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run to take a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way.

UNC, however, did not go down quietly as junior Marcus Paige hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 71-70 with 54 seconds left. Paige finished with 12 points, and was one of three Tar Heels to finish the game with double-digits. Forwards Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson each ended the contest with 15.

Head coach Roy Williams said he was “tired of congratulating people” but admired the toughness his team exhibited on this night.

“Well, you have to congratulate Wisconsin. I think the toughness that they showed today was really something,” Williams said regarding his team’s effort. “It’s strange, the difference between winning and losing is so small.

“We had J.P. on the breakaway, not a breakaway, but open court, and we didn’t convert on that one. Then they came back and scored nine in a row.”

Despite drilling 61 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, Williams’ squad could not sustain the pressure from the Badgers, who only shot 33 percent from downtown. Both teams attempted 56 shots total, and each shot 46 percent from the field.

When asked what guard Josh Gasser was doing to limit his offensive opportunities, Paige agreed with his coach and acknowledged Gasser’s competitive edge on the defensive side of the ball.

“Well, like coach said, he was just competing,” Paige said. “Every possession he understood how important it was for him to take that challenge today to guard me. He chased me around every screen. Every time I caught the ball he was right there.”

Going into the second half with a two-point lead, Wisconsin was able to turn it on offensively, led by efforts from Dekker and Kaminsky.

“Our defensive pressure is something we talked about coming into this game. We wanted to pressure them and not allow them to be comfortable, and we did that for the most part,” Paige said.

“The problem was we couldn’t finish our defense on key possessions. You know, they got a tip-out or offensive rebound and that’s how they made us pay today. They would kick it out and make a three, or run another 35 seconds off the clock.”

Jackson, who was tasked with guarding Kaminsky, was able to limit his chances in the opening 20 minutes, but they could not keep Dekker off the scoresheet. Instead, the junior embraced being given many chances, ending with a career-best in points.

“No, not at all. Obviously he’s a great player. We had some lapses in there, but good players are going to get theirs,” Jackson said regarding the play of Dekker.

Despite the trouble that Williams’ team went through off the court, the coach recognized the bond his players had, which helped him make this season an enjoyable one.

“You know, the bond that you have. Coach Alvarez knows this too, the bond that you have with your players is the strongest, stronger than anything there is, I thin,” he said.

“Even when they’re knuckle heads, you still have that bond. And when you coach kids, you give them everything you can give them. Today it wasn’t enough. But I wouldn’t trade my kids for anybody. And Bo’s got a great group, and Bo’s team won the game, but I wouldn’t trade my kids for anybody’s.”

CAA coaches talk Dean Smith’s legacy, impact

It sounds so cliché: Dean Smith left an impact on everyone who ever picked up a basketball during his lifetime. It is a phrase — in one incarnate or another — that has flooded the airwaves, taken over television screens and been displayed across print articles every day since the legendary coach passed away at the age of 83 on Feb. 7.

Yet with each passing hour — and the thousands of new stories, told by players and coaches from every level of the game that continue to roll in — it is obvious that Smith transcended the tired sports clichés about the impact a coach can leave on everyone he comes in contact with and turned them into the gospel truth.

Even in the Colonial Athletic Association — a conference akin to a single grain of sand sitting at the bottom of the great wide Atlantic Ocean that is the ACC, the conference Smith called home patrolling the sidelines for the University of North Carolina for nearly four decades — Smith’s lasting legacy was paramount.

On Tuesday morning, all 10 CAA head coaches took time out of their weekly teleconference to talk about the impact Smith had left on them, and all — ranging from William & Mary head coach Tony Schaver, who played for four years as a walk-on under Smith, to James Madison’s Matt Brady, who only knew Smith as a fan from afar — were touching and unique.

“Other than my father, there has never been a male figure who has influenced me more than Dean has. Today, I look at it much more as a person than as a coach,” said Shaver, who played for Smith from 1972-1976. “He was such a great coach and such a great teacher. He was an incredible teacher of the game of basketball and how to live your life.“

“I never met coach Smith,” said Brady, “[But] he’s had such a tremendous impact not only on his program and the players he’s touched, but on everybody who aspired to be a basketball coach.”

Smith’s Hall of Fame career at North Carolina literally revolutionized the game, with the coach implementing systems and schemes that remain a part of the college landscape, while simultaneously continuing to evolve his system to suit the strengths of his roster every season.

“He taught us so much about basketball,” said UNC Wilmington head coach Kevin Keatts. “When you look at it, I would say he’s a trendsetter. There’s not a program that you play in any conference that’s not running the Carolina back screens, the backdoors and everything else.”

With 879 career wins, 17 ACC regular-season titles, 13 ACC tournament championships, 11 Final Fours and two National Championships (1982 and 1993), Smith’s career will always be know for his gaudy numbers. But to Towson head coach Pat Skerry, Smith will forever be linked to a different kind of numbers, as the coach analyzed advanced statistics long before the term “sabermetrics” had ever been coined.

“It’s impressive that he was kind of ahead of the game with the analytics and the advanced stats,” said Skerry.

But for all of the coaches who had the opportunity to meet him, even in passing, the biggest impact Smith left had nothing to do with Xs and Os, but how he was as a man.

“As everyone keeps saying, it was the human side of him. The basketball side of him speaks for itself,” said Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich, who got to know Smith when he was working as an assistant at Dematha Catholic High School in Maryland in the late 70s and early 80s.

“A few years later when I was an assistant at La Salle I had just had twins, and I didn’t think he knew about it and he came up to me and asked all about them… he was an amazing person,” Mihalich remembered.

“I think his biggest thing was the way he maintained relationships with everybody and was always looking to help,” said Northeastern head coach Bill Coen.

Coen coached against Smith’s Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament as a University of Rhode Island assistant.

“I think at the 16-minute mark we were up 11-10 and Dean Smith called a timeout and we thought we were doing pretty well, and by halftime we were down by about 40,” laughed Coen.

Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint first met Smith when he was a young kid, all of 10 or maybe 11 years old, in Philadelphia. His father was helping the legendary coach recruit a local player.

“He sent me a poster of the Carolina team that lost in the Final Four. Every player signed it… At 10 years old that’s huge,” said Flint, noticeable pride in his voice all these years later. “Once I got in coaching, those guys actually talked about when they met me when I was 10 years old. [Smith] would say, ‘I remember you,’ and ask me how my dad was… that always put a special place in my heart about Dean Smith.”

But it was Smith’s former player, Shaver, on whom Smith left the biggest impact.

“There’s probably two percent of things that I’ve done in my career that is not exactly like the way he did them,” said Shaver. “He treated everybody fairly. He cared about everybody that was in his program, and I think the loyalty that he built because of that was the most impressive thing about his time at North Carolina.

“How he cared about people, and how he took a stand about what he thought was right. That goes from the Civil Rights movement right down to how he coached.”

For every CAA coach, from his surrogate son in Shaver to those who had never met him, Smith left behind an impossible void to fully fill, and an indelible impact that will never go away.

“When I woke up on Sunday to hear that he passed, it was such a said day because of all the players and people he touched,” said Keatts. “We’re going to miss him.”

“But,” said Coen, “his legacy will live on.”

Remembering Dean Smith: Basketball legacy of one of the game’s greatest coaches pales in comparison to his legacy off the court

They say with age comes wisdom. I don’t know if that sentiment really holds true, but in my own experiences, with age at least comes a little bit of perspective. And over my 30-going-on-31 years on this earth, I’ve gained as much perspective on the late Dean Smith as any other figure in American history.

In our society, we often unjustly elevate sports stars to the level of historical icons and heroes simply because they can run fast, jump high, make a lot of money, and are plastered all over our television screens.

Yet in the case of Smith, who coached men’s basketball at the University of North Carolina for 36 years and passed away on Feb. 7 at age 83, not nearly enough has been said about the way he used his powerful position in athletics to irrevocably change our culture and society for the better.

Even after all of the awards, the National Championships, the Basketball Hall of Fame induction, the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom, and now the posthumous prose from a who’s who of the biggest media outlets and voices in the world, not enough has been said about his impact on American society. In a head coaching career that spanned from 1961-1997 Dean Smith literally changed the game of basketball, spurring one evolution after the next for nearly four decades, but he helped to change the nation far more off the court.

“He was 1 (SIC) of the great figures in basketball, even more so for his humanity than his coaching brilliance,” wrote Steve Kerr, a 15-year NBA veteran and the current head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

“Coach Smith showed us something that I’ve seen again and again on the court – that basketball can tell us a lot more about who you are than a jump shot ever could,” said President Barack Obama in a release.

During his 36-year head coaching career, Smith won 879 games, which at the time of his retirement was the most in Division I history and remains fourth in the all-time record book. Smith won 17 ACC regular-season titles, 13 ACC Tournaments, led the Tar Heels to 11 final fours, winning two national championships (1982, 1993). He also coached Team USA to an Olympic Gold in 1976. Smith was an eight-time winner of the ACC Coach of the Year award and four times was named the national Coach of the Year.

Yet his laundry list of awards doesn’t begin to tell his story.

Smith was born in Emporia, Kansas, spent his high school years Topeka, was a student-athlete at the University of Kansas, and spent the final 54 years of his life living in North Carolina. While Smith’s route through the Midwest and South might have been a common trek for an athlete, it was hardly the typical route taken by a progressive thinker or champion of equality.

Yet Smith was, quietly, just that, spearheading integration first on his own high school basketball team in Topeka, then on the Tar Heels roster, and then in the community at large. When all was said and done, perhaps no one had done more to break racial barriers and advance equality in North Carolina – a state fielded more confederate soldiers than any other in the Civil War – than Smith.

The story has been told many times before, but Smith’s sense of fairness and equality was instilled in him by his father, Aflred, a high school basketball coach, fielded a roster with the first African-American player in school history in 1932 and led Emporia High to the 1934 Kansas state champion – becoming the first integrated team in the history of the state tournament.

A terrific story written for by Richard Lapchick in 2011 detailed Smith’s efforts as a student at Topeka High to integrate the basketball team. At the time, Topeka High has an integrated student body, and several of their athletic teams fielded multi-racial rosters, but the basketball team was all white, with a separate, semi-incorporated team of the high school’s black players suiting up and playing in the junior high school. The school also held segregated dances and African American’s also could not use the school’s swimming pool.

According to Lapchick, a teenage Smith relentlessly pestered school administration to integrate the team, and, thanks to the efforts he spearheaded, the team became fully integrated in 1951 – three years before the landmark Brown v Board of education decision striking down segregated schools across the country.

After being hired as the head coach at UNC in 1961, Smith not only worked to integrate the Tar Heels, making future NBAer Charlie Scott the first African-American scholarship athlete in 1966. But Smith didn’t simply desegregate the basketball team: He desegregated the entire school, then the surrounding Chapel Hill Community, and the entire ACC Conference.

Stories abound of how, before Smith ever recruited Scott, the coach would routinely dine with African-Americans at restaurants that had previously refused to serve them, and eating at previously segregated restaurants with African-American students, and helped a black man purchase a home in a previously all-white community.

As Edmund Burke famously said, The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Far too often in our society, people in positions of power do just that. Not Smith. Smith went out of his way to face inequality and injustice head on and use his position of power to help, even though it could make his life more complicated.

In addition to issues of race, Smith also spoke out against the Vietnam War and the death penalty. Whether you agreed with his views or not, there is no denying that in the conservative south, Smith risked ruffling feathers and alienating fans and it is impossible not to respect someone who stands for his beliefs, regardless of how it could negatively affect his life.

On the court and in practices Smith was also a rare breed. While words like “mentor” and “father-figure,” are tossed around the coaching world, they often ring hollow in the million dollar coaching industry. But according to the accounts of hundreds of former players, from arguably the greatest player of all-time in Michael Jordan, future NBA stars like James Worth, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter, down to the end of the bench walk-ons, Smith genuinely loved his players, and they loved him back.

“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father,” said Jordan in a released statement.

He also graduated his players, at a clip of nearly 97-percent, something unheard of in today’s one-and-done era.

I never had the pleasure of getting to know Smith. As a young kid who grew up watching the “Refuse to Lose” UMass Minutemen of the early to mid 1990s, I knew Smith only as the head coach of the team that, on paper, epitomized the basketball establishment whose party UMass was trying to crash.

When the Minutemen upset Smith’s defending champion Tar Heels in November of 1993, I gloated over the victory. They say you don’t really know what you have until it’s gone, and I wish, even as a young kid, I had understood at the time just how special a man Smith was when I had the opportunity to watch him live.

But his legacy will never again be lost on me.