Top-seeded UNC ready for challenge from Butler

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The University of North Carolina Tar Heels' mascot. (Carolina Basketball/Twitter)
The University of North Carolina Tar Heels' mascot. (Carolina Basketball/Twitter)

Now that North Carolina made it through a great escape, the Tar Heels are ready to see what's ahead in the NCAA Tournament.

Top-seeded North Carolina meets fourth-seeded Butler in Friday night's South Region semifinal at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.


The Tar Heels were challenged in Sunday's second round, scoring the final 12 points to pull out a 72-65 victory against Arkansas.

"Sometimes you need games like that," North Carolina guard Joel Berry said. "We haven't had a game like that in a while Now we know we can win a game when we're down five with three minutes to go."

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The Tar Heels will try to avoid such a predicament against Butler.

"I definitely think we feel blessed because of how hard we worked," Tar Heels senior forward Kennedy Meeks said.

Butler's 74-65 victory against Middle Tennessee in the second round included some anxious moments, with a double-digit lead dipping to three points in the final four minutes. The Bulldogs, though, weren't in danger like the Tar Heels faced.

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"I love the fight they showed possession after possession," said Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. "And players win games."

One of those players is fifth-year senior guard Tyler Lewis, a transfer from North Carolina State, so he has been in intense clashes with the Tar Heels in previous situations. He's Butler's assist leader with 133.

Holtmann, who's in his third season, is the former coach at Gardner-Webb, which is located in Boiling Springs, N.C.

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Butler competes in the Big East Conference, but the Bulldogs still have to withstand suggestions that they're not viewed by some as a major-conference program.

"A huge reason why I came here because of the Butler way and the Butler tradition of just being so good this time of year," Bulldogs senior forward Andrew Chrabascz.

With North Carolina (29-7), the Bulldogs face the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference champion.

An ACC team has knocked Butler out of the tournament the past two seasons (Notre Dame and Virginia) and in three of the last five years in which it has landed a spot in the tournament.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said there are elements from the way the game with Arkansas ended that the Tar Heels should savor for any upcoming games.

"It gives you confidence, first," Williams said. "I think it always teaches you to play every single possession.

Williams has coached a team to the Sweet 16 for the 18th time -- nine with Kansas and nine with North Carolina. This is the third season in a row for the Tar Heels advancing to the tournament's second week.

Butler (25-8) is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

The Bulldogs hold opponents to 68.2 points per game. North Carolina would prefer a much faster pace.

With a few days between games, it figures that Berry's ailing ankle should be in better condition. He shot 2-for-13 from the field in the Arkansas game two days after rolling the ankle in the romp past Texas Southern.

The Tar Heels and Bulldogs have never played in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs hold a 3-2 all-time series lead.

The winner advances to play Sunday against either second-seeded Kentucky or third-seeded UCLA. Those teams meet in Friday's nightcap.

North Carolina played in the 2009 regional in Memphis on the way to the national championship.

Meeks pulled in his 1,000th career rebound in the final minute against Arkansas. He's ninth in school history in rebounding, needing six more to reach the seventh spot.

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