St. Louis — There were moments in the two days leading up to Monday night's national-championship game when it seemed North Carolina eventually would have to apologize for having such a talented collection of players.
With Illinois cast as a less-gifted throwback, a bounce-pass team in a no-look world, the Tar Heels looked like just another NBA developmental squad by comparison. And how do you root for that?
Then they played the game and, in the end, talent didn't appear to be such a bad thing to have -- even if by an eyelash.
"This was a win for the Carolina 'teeeeam,'" coach Roy Williams said afterward, drawing out the word for emphasis.
More than anything, it also was a win for having a great big man under the basket, something that nearly had disappeared from the college game.
After North Carolina seemed to take control of the game near the end of the first half, only to see Illinois race back into contention on three-point shooting, it was Sean May who became the Most Valuable Talent. The second-generation power forward carried the Tar Heels, and quite a few Illinois defenders, on his back, proving that Carolina was more than just a chance confluence of showy resumes.
The game still came down to a shoot-out. Illinois kept firing, tied the game twice, but never took the lead. Raymond Felton made a huge steal for UNC, a reaction move that cannot be coached, and that was the deciding moment.
For all the talk about the coaches, all the blathering about strategy, the night was reduced to body against body, and -- no surprise -- the biggest and best bodies won.
"You're going to win today because you have great players," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said before the Final Four began. "You're not outcoaching anybody these days."
Maybe not, but Monday night also will be remembered as a culmination for Williams, who came close twice at Kansas and finally got his championship after returning to his alma mater.
"We were criticized a little bit that our bias was toward talent, but our group was a team," Williams said.
He wasn't apologizing Monday night, even though his team had been assigned the role of the heavy in a sweaty passion play that featured the general themes of teamwork vs. individual talent, upstart program vs. traditional power, Midwestern values vs. Eastern aristocracy and -- oh, why not? -- good vs. evil.
This is a difficult, usually inaccurate, piece of business, even though smarmy Carolina was a handy target this year and Illinois had somehow managed to weave the fabric of a near-perfect season and a No. 1 ranking into the cloak of an underdog.
Perhaps the Tar Heels bristled at being labeled a mere collection of selfish talent without the soul of the Illini, but there was no denying that the core of the Carolina team is the same one that quit on previous coach Matt Doherty and essentially forced his resignation.
Monday night it finally paid off for Roy Williams. No apologies were necessary, and he wasn't offering.