North Carolina-Miami Preview
Miami coach Jim Larranaga said that winning the ACC regular-season and tournament titles has been on the team's radar all season.
The ninth-ranked Hurricanes are one victory away from achieving both goals.
Making its first ACC title game appearance on Sunday, Miami will face a North Carolina team that's been to this game a record number of times, but has been the runner-up in each of the last two seasons.
Larranaga, in his first season with the team following a lengthy run with George Mason, guided the Hurricanes to the second round of the NIT tournament and a 20-13 record in 2011-12. Expectations have raised - and been met so far - this season as Miami (26-6) clinched its first ACC title since joining the league in 2004-05 and has a program record for number of wins.
After hanging on for a 69-58 victory over Boston College in the quarterfinals and riding Durand Scott's career-best 32 points in Saturday's 81-71 victory over North Carolina State, the Hurricanes' eyes are now on a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament brackets are revealed on Sunday.
"We're a very hungry team, and we want more and more,'' said sophomore point guard Shane Larkin, who has 43 points, eight assists and 10 rebounds in the tournament. "We're not satisfied with winning the regular season. We want the ACC championship, and then eventually we want to make the national championship game. We're hungry, and we're not going to settle for anything less.''
Those are bold words coming from a team that just made its second ACC tournament semifinal appearance, but the Hurricanes have reason to be confident as they get set for a third matchup with the Tar Heels (24-9). Miami ended a 10-game losing streak in this series on Jan. 10 with a 68-59 victory in Chapel Hill, then routed the two-time defending regular-season champs on Feb. 9, 87-61.
The Hurricanes hit a school record-tying 15 3-pointers in that game - five from Larkin, who also had 18 points and a career-best nine assists, and three apiece from Scott and forward Kenny Kadji.
It was the Tar Heels' worst defeat since a 90-57 loss at Florida State on Jan. 14, 2012.
"Everybody from North Carolina always thinks it's just about North Carolina,'' coach Roy Williams said after the Feb. 9 defeat. "It's not. Miami is pretty dadgum good.''
If two losses to the Hurricanes didn't get their attention, North Carolina just has to look back to last season's ACC tournament title game to be reminded that the ACC tournament doesn't belong to teams calling the Tar Heel State their home. North Carolina, a 75-58 loser to the Blue Devils in the 2011 final, fell 85-82 to Florida State in last season's championship as the Seminoles became just the second team from outside North Carolina in 19 years to win the event.
The Tar Heels have 17 ACC tournament championships on their resume, with the last coming in 2008 when they won their second in a row. North Carolina makes a league-record 32nd appearance in the final after defeating Maryland 79-76 on Saturday.
Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland each scored 15 points, while James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, a sophomore guard, each chipped in with 13 as the Tar Heels improved to 8-2 since Hairston was inserted into the starting lineup right after last month's Miami loss.
Hairston was questionable against the Terrapins after getting cut in the quarterfinals and needing eight stitches, but his focus is on Miami, not his injured non-shooting hand.
"It's up to us to play smart and play our game and do what we have to do to win," he said.
This will be the second ACC tournament matchup between these teams, with North Carolina winning 61-59 in the 2011 quarterfinals.
The Tar Heels are 18-4 in this series.