Extra rest pays off in fifth straight ACC win for Tar Heels

UNC's Roy Williams talks about the Tar Heels' win over Louisville

North Carolina coach Roy Williams talks about the the Tar Heels' big win over Louisville in ACC play.
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North Carolina coach Roy Williams talks about the the Tar Heels' big win over Louisville in ACC play.

North Carolina got an extra day off of practice this week.

If the Tar Heels play like they did on Saturday in a 93-76 win at Louisville, they might get some more time off.

After the Tar Heels (21-7, 10-5 ACC) had completed an unbeaten run through three games in five days, Williams figured that had earned a little extra rest. So after Monday’s home win over Notre Dame, there was no practice on Tuesday and no practice on Wednesday.

“That second day felt so weird,” said senior Theo Pinson, who had 19 points against Louisville. “I mean, just not doing anything.”

When the players came back on Thursday, Williams actually had to cut practice short because the players had so much pent-up energy.

Williams was also worried the team looked too good in practice. He wanted them to save something for Louisville.

After the first 13 minutes on Saturday, Williams had no reason to be worried. UNC jumped out to a 40-21 lead. The ball movement was crisp, the deep shots were falling and UNC looked like it had picked up where it left off after sweeping Duke, N.C. State and Notre Dame.

“I think we all did a good job of getting our bodies back together,” wing Cam Johnson said. “We had two great practices coming into this game and we were pretty focused on this one. This is one we really wanted.”

It showed. UNC made 14 of its first 24 shots and started 7 of 11 from the 3-point line. Louisville was down 19-6 and 40-21 before it was able to get any traction.

Even Williams had to admit the Heels looked good.

“All in all, we really played well,” Williams said “I didn’t like our defense but I haven’t liked our defense all year long. Maybe we’ll get it changed before I turn 90.”

theo vert
North Carolina forward Theo Pinson (1) attempts to drive past the defense of Louisville forward Malik Williams (5) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Louisville, KY. Timothy D. Easley AP

Actually, Williams said, one of the reasons he was so impressed in practice in the run-up to Saturday’s game was how well the team looked defensively in practice.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, maybe we’re finally turning the corner,’ ” Williams said. “I didn’t necessarily see it as much today in the game.”

Williams didn’t like that Louisville made five 3-pointers in the first half to cut UNC’s lead down to nine by the break.

But the coach was picking nits. UNC got its offense cranked back up in the second half. After going cold, and finishing the first half with only four makes on the final 15 attempts, the Heels shot 51.4 percent in the second half.

In the past seven games, UNC has made 55.9 percent of its shots in the second half (128 of 229) and shot better than 50 percent in six of those games.

Pinson is hoping the extra rest can become a trend, or at least a reward.

“We’ve got five guys who play a lot of minutes, so we appreciate those two days off,” Pinson said.

Pinson, a senior who has seen just about everything, couldn’t remember the last time Williams gave the team an extra day off.

“I have no idea, it has been a minute for that one,” Pinson said. “I don’t even know if we have before.”

After the way the Heels played on Saturday, Williams might be inclined to try it again.

North Carolina guard Joel Berry talks about the increased hustle and enthusiasm of the Tar Heels following their ACC win over Louisville.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio