It was almost a month ago that North Carolina seemed to be hitting its stride.
The Tar Heels were riding a four-game winning streak heading into their home game against Louisville on Jan. 12, and appeared primed to make it five games.
But the Cardinals stomped the Tar Heels 83-62, the largest home defeat in the Roy Williams era.
When an Atlanta-based reporter asked about the Louisville loss on Tuesday, Williams made sure to clarify that that it was the worst home loss of his career as a head coach. Kansas, UNC or Charles D. Owen High School.
“That was one of the very few games, and I mean very few that I’ve ever coached and sat there and didn’t realize who was my team,” Williams said. “The guys right there on the court in that game didn’t look like my team.”
On Saturday, No. 9 UNC (16-4, 6-1 ACC) will play No. 15 Louisville (16-5, 7-1) again — this time on the road. And again, the Tar Heels appear to be hitting their stride. They’ve won four straight, and have shot better than 45 percent from 3-point range in each of the last three games.
But will this time be different?
“I think we’re a little more confident, but we had a couple of guys who didn’t play worth a darn today,” Williams said after UNC’s 77-54 win over Georgia Tech. “We got to play a complete game at Louisville. We know that.”
The Cardinals are hot too. They’ve won six straight, dating back to their victory over the Tar Heels. UNC will be without two key reserves on Saturday. UNC sophomore reserve Sterling Manley will miss his ninth game of the season with a sore knee, while freshman guard/forward Leaky Black will miss his first game after spraining his ankle against Georgia Tech.
Williams told reporters on Friday that neither player had practiced with the team.
Black left the locker room after the Georgia Tech game in a walking boot and on crutches.
What went wrong in first game
There was a lot that went wrong for the Tar Heels in Game One of the series. For one, the Tar Heels turned the ball over 14 times, which led to 19 points off turnovers. They also shot poorly, 34.5 percent from the floor.
Senior forward Luke Maye, who did not play well against Georgia Tech, was off against Louisville, too. He finished the game 3-for-14 from the floor, scoring nine points and grabbing 11 rebounds. UNC’s leading scorer, graduate senior Cam Johnson scored only 10 points, was 3-for-8 from the floor and did not make a 3-pointer. Freshman guard Coby White, UNC’s second leading scorer, was 0 of 4 from the floor. And starting UNC sophomore forward Garrison Brooks had no rebounds in the game.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, shot 52 percent from the floor and held a comfortable lead for the majority of the game. Louisville’s length also seemed to bother UNC. The Cardinals outrebounded the Tar Heels 40-31. It was only the second time all season that the Tar Heels had been beaten on the boards.
The Tar Heels are 0-2 when their opponent has more rebounds than they have.
‘Going to be fired up’
In two of the last three games, the Tar Heels have shot 50 percent or better from the floor overall. In the game that they did not, they shot 47.5 percent. And in all three games, they have shot better than 45 percent from 3. The Tar Heels are 6-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better.
“I think we’ve seen glimpses of how good we can really be, especially when we’re shooting the ball the way we’re supposed to,” UNC senior guard Kenny Williams said. “I think these last two games, this is the team that Coach expects shooting the ball, and this is the team that we expect. When we get it going from 3 and we lock in on defense, I think we can be really good.”
He said the Tar Heels haven’t forgotten what happened in the Louisville game.
“We’re going into their house, and we know what they did to us,” he said. “So we’re definitely going to be fired up, Coach is going to be fired up.”
“We got some ‘get back’ that we have to get, and I think we’ll be ready when we go in.”
UNC at Louisville
Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.