North Carolina players not named Brady Manek could not buy a basket in the first half of Friday's Sweet 16 game vs. UCLA. North Carolina players not named Caleb Love could not buy a basket in the second half. Yet that was just enough to get the job done, as the No. 8 seed Tar Heels moved on to the Elite Eight after dispatching of No. 4 seed UCLA 73-66 behind a heroic takeover from Love in one of the most impressive second halves you'll see from a player on college basketball's biggest stage.
Love, the streaky sophomore who can run hot or go ice cold, finished with 30 points in the win and turned in 27 of them during an epic second-half takeover -- splashing 3s, getting to the rim, dropping floaters in and delivering dimes as he carried UNC to a win. He scored 20 of his team's 27 points over the final 12:53 of regulation and keyed a 12-2 run to the finish line for the Tar Heels that brought it home. Manek finished with 13 points after leading the way with 10 in the first half, and two others -- Armando Bacot and RJ Davis -- finished in double figures.
"He's been fantastic all season," said UNC coach Hubert Davis on CBS postgame. "At the end of the day, you just need guys to step up. And Caleb Love was absolutely fantastic."
UCLA led for the majority of the game, but wilted down the stretch as Love got hot. Bruins stars Jules Bernard, Jaime Jaquez, Johnny Juzang and Tyger Campbell all finished scoring in double figures. In the second half, however, the team shot 15 of 35 from the floor and Jaquez, consistently one of the most steady offensive weapons, shot 1 of 11 from the field in the final 20 minutes.
North Carolina was a team down the stretch run of the season that was on the NCAA Tournament bubble because of a lackluster resume in the regular season. In March, it has come alive and emerged as a real contender with perhaps two of the most impressive wins this tournament -- first over No. 1 seed Baylor in the second round and now with a Sweet 16 win over UCLA -- which was a Final Four team last year -- on Friday.
"Our confidence never wavered," said UNC big man Armando Bacot. "We knew that we were this good of a team. We knew we could make this run. Even when we struggled, we never at any point thought we were a bad team."
Let's get to a few key takeaways from the game.
Caleb Love's unmatched confidence
After a first half in which Love went 1 of 8 from the field with his only make being a 3-pointer, one would have accepted -- heck, maybe even expected -- that Love would perhaps back off and try to play facilitator. Nope. Not Caleb Love.
"Never lose my confidence level," Love said postgame. "I feel like that's the best part of my game, not losing my confidence out there. When I'm out there, I'm just a mood. That's what that was tonight."
Love's 30 points tied for the fifth-most for any UNC player in an NCAA Tournament game since the shot clock era was installed in the 1980s, matching teammate RJ Davis, who turned in 30 points vs. Baylor in the second round.
UCLA's wings struggle vs. UNC's defense
The not-so-secret sauce behind UCLA's Final Four run a season ago was its ability, with Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang, to generate offense with two of the best shot-creating wings in college hoops. That just wasn't a strength Friday, as the two combined to shoot 10 of 31 for 24 points, including 3-of-19 shooting combined in the second half.
"We have peace and confidence to be able to close out games because we've done that before," said Davis of UNC's strong second half. "We've been in those situations where a play needs to be had, and we've always stepped up to the challenge."
Path to the Final Four
With UNC eliminating the No. 1 seed, and the Nos. 2-4 seeds now down, the path to the Final Four for the Tar Heels now has but one obstacle: No. 15 seed Saint Peter's. The Peacocks are the story of the tournament as the first-ever 15-seed to ever make the Elite Eight. But they're going to be a big underdog against UNC, as they've been all tournament. It could potentially be what stands between a Final Four matchup between Duke and North Carolina, which has never happened before in the NCAA Tournament.