UNC vs. Louisville
at Carrier Dome, Syracuse
RECORDS: North Carolina 27-6, Louisville 26-8.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Top-seeded North Carolina, the ACC tournament champ, struggled to beat No. 16 Fairfield 82-74, routed No. 9 Colorado 73-56 and rallied to beat No. 5 California 63-57. No. 6 seed Louisville beat No. 11 Massachusetts 65-57, nipped No. 3 New Mexico 64-63 and easily defeated No. 10 Texas 78-63.
COACHES: North Carolina _ Dean Smith (878-253, 36th season). Louisville _ Denny Crum (613-232, 26th season).
KEY PLAYERS: North Carolina _ Antawn Jamison, F, 6-8 So. (19.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg); Shammond Williams, G, 6-2 Jr. (14.2 ppg; 4.4 apg); Serge Zwikker, C, 7-3 Sr. (11.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg). Louisville _ Alvin Sims, G/F, 6-4 Sr. (11.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg); Alex Sanders, F/C, 6-7 So. (9.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Damion Dantzler, F, 6-7 Jr. (7.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
WHAT TO EXPECT: A classic matchup of two of the nation's premier coaches who know how to prepare their teams for the tournament. The Tar Heels have won 15 straight games, but they rarely have dominated. Against Cal, they needed an inspired second half from Jamison and solid play from sophomore forward Vince Carter, who scored 14 a week after pulling a groin muscle. As for Louisville, it is Crum's worst shooting team, struggled at the end of the season and lost senior point guard DeJuan Wheat to a severely sprained left ankle with 15:52 to go against Texas in the regional semifinals. Even without Wheat's leadership and scoring punch (a team-high 17.7 ppg), the rest of the unheralded Cardinals broke open a close game as Sims scored a career-high 25, and Sanders and Dantzler each had 17. Neither team has much depth _ if Wheat doesn't play, that further depletes the Cards _ so this could turn into a methodical half-court battle, which would favor the Heels. Crum held out hope Wheat would be able to play, but he said it was unlikely. A key matchup should be UNC freshman point guard Ed Cota against Louisville senior guard B.J. Flynn.
Arizona vs. Providence
at Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center
RECORDS: Arizona 22-9, Providence 24-11.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: No. 4 seed Arizona beat No. 13 South Alabama 65-57, eked by No. 12 College of Charleston 73-69 and stunned No. 1 Kansas, the prohibitive favorite to win the title, 85-82. No. 10 Providence beat No. 7 Marquette 81-59, upset No. 2 Duke 98-87 and beat surprising UT-Chattanooga 71-65.
COACHES: Arizona _ Lute Olsen (338-110, 14th season; 530-202). Providence _ Pete Gillen (59-36, third season; 261-111).
KEY PLAYERS: Arizona _ Michael Dickerson, F, 6-5 Jr. (20.1 ppg); Mike Bibby, PG, 6-1 Fr. (13.0 ppg, 5.4 apg); Miles Simon, G, 6-5 Jr. (17.0 ppg). Providence _ Austin Croshere, F, 6-9 Sr. (18.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Derrick Brown, F, 6-6 Sr. (17.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg); God Shammgod, PG, 6-0 So. (10.5 ppg, 6.7 apg).
WHAT TO EXPECT: The Wildcats are one of the nation's highest scoring teams. They average 84 points thanks to the three-point shooting of Dickerson, Bibby, Simon and sophomore Jason Terry, and the transition baskets the defense creates. Bibby, Terry and junior Bennett Davison each has more than 50 steals. Providence likes an up-tempo game itself. See the Duke win. But in the half court, Croshere and Brown are a tough matchup for any pair of forwards. Croshere, however, has dodged foul trouble in the past two games. He was forced to play the final 10 minutes of each with four fouls. He can't afford such problems against the toughest team the Friars have faced in the tournament, not if they want to reach the Final Four for the first time since Rick Pitino's three-point specialists, led by Florida coach Billy Donovan, did it in 1987. The matchup that could determine the game is Bibby against Shammgod, who is playing with more poise and selflessness than at any time in his career. Both were brilliant in their team's victories Friday night. Bibby led his team with 21 points and five assists, and Shammgod almost single-handedly defeated Tennessee-Chattanooga with his quickness and ability to penetrate the lane, finishing with 15 points and seven assists.
_ BRIAN LANDMAN, TIMES WIRES