CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Jawad Williams made the game's biggest play, but Jim Calhoun appeared to blow the most critical decision.
Williams nailed the go-ahead jumper with 56 seconds left and Calhoun failed to give his team instructions to commit a foul as North Carolina held on for a 68-65 victory over No. 6 Connecticut.
After Williams drilled his jumper for a 66-65 lead, Connecticut (11-2) had a chance to take the lead, but Ben Gordon missed a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left. The Tar Heels came up with the rebound as the shot clock and game clock were almost identical.
North Carolina (11-5) brought the ball upcourt and the Huskies looked confused about the situation, failing to foul early in the possession, which normally is the coach's responsibility to tell his team.
Calhoun was not happy discussing the play afterwards.
"I said the first question would be about the last 31 seconds because the first 30 seconds in Connecticut are never played," he said. "We tried to work to foul on a little delay. We said as soon as it gets down to 20, we'll grab him. (Raymond) Felton, I think we had, and then we had Williams. We had a list of guys to grab. We did a poor job."
UConn finally committed a foul with three seconds left on Tar Heels freshman Rashad McCants, who converted two free throws.
"I've told you guys before - I'm very confident at the free-throw line even though my percentage right now is not too great," said McCants, a 70 percent foul shooter. "In the clutch, I'm trying to make big plays."
The Huskies called their last timeout to set up a final play. They worked it up to Gordon, whose long 3-pointer hit off the back of the rim as time expired.
UConn took their first lead when Taliek Brown used a nifty behind-the-back pass to Emeka Okafor for a dunk and a 65-64 edge with 76 seconds to go.
"I'm extremely proud of my team," Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty said. "For a young team to go against a team of UConn's stature and ability is tough. They press, they've got great talent and to answer that run, especially at the end was big. Raymond executed the play and hit Jawad for a big, big, big, big shot."
The end of the game overshadowed a dismal start by UConn as North Carolina jumped to a 23-4 lead. The Huskies committed eight turnovers in the first 7 1/2 minutes.
"We in turn got defeated by the fact that we couldn't make shots early and allowed ourselves to feel bad for ourselves," Calhoun said. "We started to right the ship, but it was too late to make it happen."
McCants finished with 27 points on 7-of-11 shooting to lead four players in double figures for North Carolina. He also made 9-of-10 free throws to lead a sizable advantage at the foul line.
The Tar Heels shot 70 percent (21-of-30) at the line in comparison to a 7-of-12 showing by the Huskies. The disparity in free throws caused Calhoun to complain all game about the trio of officials - Andre Patillo, Bryan Kersey and Ed Corbett.
North Carolina took command right from the start with the game's first 13 points, including eight from McCants. Melvin Scott's 3-pointer made it 23-4 with 10:39 left before halftime.
"I just wanted to come out and play like I was playing in high school," McCants said. "It's just having fun, smiling, getting the crowd into it, all that kind of stuff."
The Huskies scored nine straight points to get back in the game and were within 38-27 at halftime. UConn committed 11 of its 19 turnovers in the first half.
An 11-5 spurt to open the second half pulled UConn within 43-38 with 16 minutes remaining. The game stayed close from that point on and a three-point play by Byron Sanders gave North Carolina a 64-58 advantage with 3:18 remaining.
UConn scored the next seven points for its lead, but Felton patiently worked it to Williams, who knocked in his jumper.
"I didn't panic," Felton said. "I knew we'd get a great shot. I had confidence that one of my teammates was going to take it."
Okafor was plagued by fouls and had 13 points and seven rebounds. Gordon, the Huskies' leading scorer, made just 5-of-19 shots for 10 points. Starting point guard Brown had seven turnovers.
"Regardless we made a mental error that didn't cost us the game," Calhoun said. "As a matter of fact, we got a better 3-point shot than we would have. Ben played poorly. Tony (Robertson) played awful."
The Huskies made 6-of-23 shots from beyond the arc as Gordon missed all eight attempts.