Louisville has sorted through some of its problems and returned to its winning ways. North Carolina is still trying to figure out how to win a game.
The teams meet for the only time in the regular season Saturday night at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
The No. 11 Cardinals had the get-well moments in the 90-66 thumping of visiting Syracuse on Wednesday night. That outcome halted a two-game slide that had knocked Louisville out of first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
When Duke lost later that night at North Carolina State, Louisville (22-5, 13-3 ACC) moved back into first place in the conference standings.
North Carolina (10-16, 3-12) will arrive in last place. For Louisville coach Chris Mack, the Tar Heels won’t be viewed as a team at the bottom of the standings.
“We move on to Carolina. I don’t care how many they’ve lost in a row,” Mack said. “A few of them, I’m sure Roy (Williams) didn’t know how they lost. They have talent, and they’re finally healthy. They are going to come in here ready to play on Saturday and we need to be ready to play as well.”
That was the case earlier this week as the Cardinals, who had lost road games to Georgia Tech and Clemson, put together a splendid performance at both ends of the court. Louisville delivered the most lopsided loss of the season on Syracuse.
The Cardinals used an altered lineup, in part to contend with Syracuse’s zone. Freshman guard David Johnson was a first-time starter and Malik Williams had his first start of the season while Ryan McMahon also joined the lineup.
By the end, Louisville had a season-high 23 assists.
“You’re going to have a high assist night when you make shots, just simply because you’re not doing a whole lot off the dribble against the zone,” Mack said.
Mack said he expects to keep Johnson with the first-team unit, while he didn’t make commitments beyond that.
North Carolina has lost six games in a row, including the last two when late-game 3-point shots connected for their opponents. It has been a depressing stretch for the Tar Heels.
“You’ve got two choices,” said Williams, the North Carolina coach. “You can compete your butt off or you can get in a fetal position and curl up and start crying. … We play Saturday. You can feel sorry for yourself and (if) you feel sorry for yourself, you’re going to do that the rest of your freaking life.”
The losses to Virginia and Notre Dame added to the late-game misery that has defined the North Carolina season. Saturday’s game will be the two-week mark since the Tar Heels blew a lead in regulation and lost in overtime to Duke.
“We’re going to play the games they put on our schedule,” coach Williams said. “We’re going to try to compete as hard as we can.”
North Carolina has restocked its lineup with senior guard Brandon Robinson returning to action and scoring 11 points (hitting three 3-point shots) Monday night at Notre Dame. He had missed the previous four games with an ankle injury.
Since guard Cole Anthony returned to the court following a knee injury that had him sidelined for almost two months, the Tar Heels have gone 0-6.
The Cardinals are 40-13 all-time at home in ACC games.
–Field Level Media