UNC Outlasts Louisville, Advances to Semi-Final vs. Virginia
By: Joe Rokicki
The Louisville Cardinals and North Carolina Tar Heels met for the third time this season in the quarterfinals of the 2015 ACC Tournament in Greensboro Thursday afternoon. The teams split the two game regular season matchups, each winning at their respective home courts in dramatic fashion. Marcus Paige sealed a victory for the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on a layup as time expired to beat the Cardinals 72-71. The Cardinals completed their own dramatic home victory three weeks later after overcoming an 18-point deficit to slide past the visiting Tar Heels 78-68.
Thursday’s matchup proved to be equally exciting as the previous two, as the fifth seeded Tar Heels once again outlasted the fourth seeded Cardinals, 70-60 in Greensboro.
Carolina’s depth impacted the game tremendously, as the Kennedy Meeks lead all bench players with 9 points. The Tar Heels outscored the Cardinals bench 23-4, both Cardinal bench baskets came in the first half. The bench played a large role in what was another comeback victory for the Tar Heels, who trailed 37-32 at halftime only to outscore the Cardinals 38-23 in the second half. When the two teams met earlier this year in Chapel Hill, the Cardinals bench failed to score a single point.
However, today’s matchup proved to be the tail of two halves, especially from North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ perspective. “I didn’t think we had done a nice job of sprinting back on defense. We had turned it over on silly turnover. Again, to just be down five, I told them, I told my staff and I told the players, that is about the luckiest I’ve ever felt.”
Forward Brice Johnson committed two of those “silly turnovers” in the first half, which along with a lack of hustle, frustrated Williams enough to call a timeout. “You try to do everything you can to try to get guys to play, but at that point it wasn’t a coaching ploy. It was just that I was extremely frustrated.”
The Cardinals dominated much of the first half. Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear were in double figures at half time; they scored 13 points and 10 points respectively. As a team, Louisville shot 52% from the field and ripped down 21 total rebounds, Montrezl Harrell had 8 of them. The Louisville front court dominated much of the paint in the first half with lots of hustle and persistence on the glass. Harrell and Chinanu Onuaku combined for 12 rebounds in the first half. The Tar Heel front court, led by Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson, only combined for 4 rebounds.
The Tar Heels implemented a zone defense complicated by a half-court trap to quell the Cardinals offensive attack. It worked – Louisville only shot 22% in the second half. An improvement in the Tar Heels’ big men was the difference in Carolina’s zone success between halves. According to Coach Williams, “We got our big guys to move a heck of a lot more in the second half. First half, I thought our big guys were really sort of hiding behind the zone.”
Brice Johnson played a pivotal role in that front court transformation and led all Carolina scorers with 22 points, 18 of which came in the second half. “I just wasn’t playing the way I should have been playing in the first half, and in the second half I decided to man up and just be able to come out and play,” said Johnson when asked about his man hood being challenged in the second half. One such example occurred late in the second half when Terry Rozier pulled up for a three point attempt in transition with the Cardinals trailing 60-57. Johnson outlasted Harrell in a battle down low for the loose ball. Harrell then committed a foul retreating back up court behind a fleeting Tar Heel transition offense; something that wasn’t so evident in the first half. Harrell also missed both free throw attempts late in the game with the Cardinals trailing by five.
Marcus Paige started the second half with a three pointer; he finished with 13 points. Johnson kept the momentum flowing on a transitional two hand slam that tied the game at 37. Kennedy Meeks, who saw his first action since the Duke game last Saturday, also played a key role late in the game and led all bench players with 9 points. Meeks swatted a layup from Terry Rozier with just over three minutes left in the game and sent the Tar Heel faithful at the Greensboro Coliseum berserk.
It’s all over for the Lousiville Cardinals, who planned to stay in Greensboro just a little longer.
“We came here to win this tournament, and we’re very disappointed we’re going home. We had our way against man to man and they switched to zone and we went cold,” said a disgruntled Rick Pitino after the game Thursday evening.
Overall, the Cardinals couldn’t muster a complete game despite a successful first half. Terry Rozier finished with 20 points. Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrel added 18 points and 14 points respectively. Cold second half shooting and a scoreless bench spelled the end of ACC tournament play for the Cardinals, who started the half 0-5 from the field.
North Carolina will play top seeded Virginia in the semi-final round on Friday. Tip-off is at 7 pm.