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Tar Heels, Bruins, Jayhawks, Tigers to Compete for NCAA Basketball Title


The men's U.S. college basketball tournament is down to four teams: North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) and Kansas. Action gets under way Saturday at 2200 UTC in the so-called Final Four in San Antonio, Texas. As VOA's David Byrd reports, the widely-followed event includes a coach playing against his former team and a school that is making its third straight Final Four appearance.

University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams spent 15 seasons in Lawrence, Kansas, leading the Jayhawks. As coach, Williams led Kansas to nine conference titles, four Final Fours and two national title game appearances. But the Jayhawks never won a national crown under his leadership.

Williams, who graduated from North Carolina and first served there as an assistant to Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith, left Kansas in 2003 to return his alma mater. In 2005, Williams led the Tar Heels to the national title, North Carolina's fourth all-time.

Williams - himself now a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame - says that he still has fond memories of his time at Kansas, but his focus will not be on his former team Saturday here at the Alamodome.

"I have the greatest love for a place that I gave my heart, my body and my soul for 15 years," he said. "I have no idea what my emotions are going to be. But nobody in the world could have more love and have tried to give more to that place than I did for 15 years, and they gave me a chance."

Bill Self took over as the University of Kansas coach when Roy Williams left, and he says that he hopes there will be no ill will from Jayhawk basketball fans.

"Us Kansas fans, we should be proud of the time that Roy gave us because excellence was definitely the standard while he was there," he said. "There may be some talk about it, but our focus will not be on that, our focus will be on their team. When fans get upset, all that is is a backhanded compliment because they did not want you to leave."

The winner of the North Carolina-Kansas game faces the winner of the UCLA-Memphis game. UCLA is making its third straight appearance in the Final Four after losing the past two years to Florida.

After reaching this year's semifinals last Sunday by beating Xavier, UCLA junior guard Darren Collison said the Bruins do not want to go home without the trophy this season.

This one feels good - to make a third Final Four appearance. But we have been here before," he noted. "That feeling coming back after a loss to Florida did not feel too good. So we do not want to ever experience that. We want to go back this time and we want to be focused. Definitely this win feels good but we are not satisfied."

UCLA has won the title 11 times, but its last championship was in 1995. The University of Memphis last made the Final Four in 1985 when it was known as Memphis State. Under current coach John Calipari, Memphis has been to the round of eight twice.

All four of the semifinal teams were the top seeds in their respective regions, making this year's tournament the first time four number-one seeds have made it to the Final Four. Saturday's winners play for the championship game Monday night, also in San Antonio.