North Carolina coach Roy Williams was at a loss for words Saturday.
In his 16 seasons as head coach, the Tar Heels had never lost at home by more than 16 points. And after achieving one of its toughest wins of the season on Tuesday — a 90-82 victory over N.C. State on the road — UNC was destroyed at home against Louisville, 83-62.
The loss to Louisville might have been UNC’s worst performance of the season.
“I didn’t think we had the energy, the execution, the toughness, the sense of urgency,” Williams said. “It was sort similar to the way I felt when we started the Kentucky game. They had much more pep in their step than we did.”
In that game, the Tar Heels started out flat. And the Wildcats, fueled by the energy of their crowd, out-hustled the Tar Heels. They screamed after every bucket, while the Tar Heels showed little emotion.
UNC (12-4, 2-1 ACC) led for one minute against Louisville, and that was by three points in the opening minute. When the Cardinals took the lead with 18:35 left in the first half, they never let it go.
Louisville (11-5, 2-1) started the game 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point line, and 7-for-7 from the floor overall. The Cardinals out-hustled the Tar Heels to nearly every loose ball, and things just seemed to go their way.
“You take a night off, teams in the ACC are just going to beat you up,” UNC senior guard Kenny Williams said. “And that’s what happened today.”
“We just weren’t focused,” he added. “We kind of got what we deserved.”
Nearly every key rotational player for UNC struggled. They mishandled passes, turned the ball over and missed open shots.
Senior forward Luke Maye, UNC’s second-leading scorer who came into the game averaging 14.8 points per game, scored nine points, and was 3-for-14 from the floor. Freshman Coby White, who was averaging 14.7 points per game, scored only four points and did not make a field goal. UNC’s leading scorer, graduate senior Cam Johnson, who was averaging 16.2 points per game, scored 10 points but did not make a 3-pointer for the first time all season.
And Garrison Brooks, who coach Williams called the player of the game against N.C. State, had five points, zero rebounds, and two turnovers.
The only player to give the Tar Heels a spark in the first half was reserve Brandon Huffman, who averages less than three minutes per game. He had four points and one offensive rebound in three minutes to help cut what was once a 15-point Louisville lead to single digits at halftime.
But it did not get better from there. Louisville continued to dominate UNC in the second half. The Tar Heels shot 34.5 percent from the floor, and were 3-for-22 from behind the 3-point line. Their 62 points on Saturday, and 34 percent shooting, were both season lows.
“I think we underestimated them,” Huffman said. “Defense has been kind of shaky, and up and down this year, but it definitely wasn’t where it needed to be this specific game.”
“I think this is an important loss to take, because we’d much rather have this now, than later in the season.”
Louisville shot 52 percent from the floor overall, and 42 percent from 3. The Cardinals out-rebounded the Tar Heels 40-31.
Louisville junior forward Dwayne Sutton, who came into the game averaging just under 10 points, was nearly flawless. He scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds, 7 assists and no turnovers.
“If you think that you can win only when you shoot the ball, then you’re not very tough,” coach Williams said, when asked whether UNC could win games without shooting well. “And that really ticks me off. You’ve got to be able to win basketball games ugly. We’ve won hundreds of basketball games ugly.
“Instead of just acting like a pansy and thinking, ‘Oh my shot’s not going in’ -- if that’s the case, go find your momma and hug her.”
The Tar Heels had been playing their best basketball recently. They had won four straight, held opponents to under 43 percent shooting in each game, and won two road games to open up ACC play. They appeared like they were finally hitting their stride.
But Williams said after the win against N.C. State, the Tar Heels had two “mediocre practices,” which seemed to carry over into the game.
“I told them whatever they did to prepare for this game, never do it again,” Williams said. “It’s my job to get them prepared to play, and I didn’t think we were prepared to play today.”