The scouting reports couldn’t have been too difficult, at least. North Carolina knows what Notre Dame likes to do. Notre Dame knows what UNC likes to do.
The teams play Sunday in the NCAA tournament East regional championship game for the second time in a little more than two weeks and for the third time this season.
The Tar Heels wanted some revenge in the second game, the one in the ACC tournament, after Notre Dame’s 80-76 victory in the regular season. And now the Fighting Irish are after the same thing, and a trip to the Final Four, after UNC’s 31-point victory in the ACC tournament.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey joked on Saturday that he’d “misplaced” the film from that game.
“Those are ones that you burn, you don’t go back to,” Brey said. “But certainly you have to learn from it. And we’ve talked about it a little bit in practice.”
A little bit? Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels’ senior guard, said on Saturday that if it had been UNC that endured that kind of loss, there would have been a lot more discussion.
“Like if it was us that got blown out,” Paige said, “we would be talking about that nonstop up until the game, trying to get ourselves fired up for revenge.”
Familiar feeling for White: The last time UNC played in a regional final was in 2012, when it ended its season with an 80-67 loss against Kansas. Stilman White, the Tar Heels’ junior guard, remembers it well, as he should – he was UNC’s starting point guard that game.
“I remember the same type of media hype is around the game,” White said on Saturday. “A lot of excitement. And I see the team’s just as excited as it was my freshman to year to play in this game and have a chance to go to the Final Four.”
White is the only UNC player who has experienced an NCAA tournament regional semifinal. Notre Dame, meanwhile, made it this far last year.
White, who played sparingly then and now, started that day in 2012 in St. Louis with Kendall Marshall and Dexter Strickland both out with injuries. After that season White left school to go on a Mormon mission, and he returned to the team before last season.
So how does the 2011-12 UNC team compare to this one? White offered his thoughts.
“I think that definitely goes into the more college and professional feel,” he said. “A lot of guys on that team kind of did their own thing. This team, everyone interacts with each other. Everyone has fun and goofs around, teases, makes fun of each other.
“And that’s something that makes the season a lot more fun.”
Pinson provides comic relief – again: UNC coach Roy Williams and his five starting players were midway through a press conference on Saturday when in walked Theo Pinson, the sophomore guard. He walked up some steps to a makeshift stage and, straight-faced, asked where his chair was.
“Where’s my name at?” Pinson said, drawing laughter from teammates and reporters.
“You guys don’t have to put up with him,” Williams said. “... I’ve been coaching 28 years, I’ve never had one friggin’ player walk up in the middle of a (dang) press conference.
“That’s the guy who mimicked (UNC football) coach Larry Fedora in a press conference.”
It was, perhaps, one more moment that reflected UNC’s looseness before one of its most important games in years.
Brey hobbled: Given the choice Brey, the Notre Dame coach, would likely rather be injured himself than have an injury affect one of his players. But a leg injury Brey sustained on the sideline during Notre Dame’s victory against Wisconsin on Friday night could leave him wearing a walking boot, which he was wearing Saturday, on Sunday.
“I told my doc, ‘I don’t really want to do this,’” Brey said when asked if he’d have to coach on Sunday while wearing the boot. “He said, ‘We’ll talk tomorrow.’”
Brey wondered openly on Saturday about whether wearing a seatbelt on the bench might do him some good.
“I’ve got to remember I’m not the 41-year-old guy who got the job in 2000,” he said. “... I need to sit down more.”