Jackie Manuel blocked Connecticut's first shot. The Tar Heels casually broke the Huskies' press for a layup. Manuel and Kris Lang went inside-out for an open 3. Lang jammed.
Five minutes. UNC ahead 11-2. Five rebounds. Two blocks. Three assists. Three Husky turnovers.
Then the real Tar Heels arrived -- just a little late for the season's only trip above the Mason-Dixon Line. The Tar Heels that opposing teams have come to know, adore and punish returned.
One of the 10,027 fans exclaimed: "I guess the North always wins." Not North Carolina, not this year. UNC dropped its fifth consecutive game for the first time in 51 years while suffering its worst non-conference loss in 52 years, 86-54 to UConn.
"I thought things were looking up considering we did start off well," Lang said. "But we started getting careless with the ball, and they hit some tough 3s, and it just happened."
That it did -- again. The Tar Heels (5-10), still searching for their first win in 2002, are off to their worst 15-game start in program history and are five games below .500 for just the second time ever.
After UNC's first-round flurry blew over, UConn landed uppercut after uppercut. Ben Gordon drained a 3 from 10 feet behind the arc, and 6-foot-7 Caron Butler, who finished with 29 points, scored on four first-half stick-backs as the Huskies distanced themselves from the Tar Heels.
"That's my bread and butter," Butler said of his offensive rebounding.
Meanwhile, UNC went cold and couldn't find its way through the rim with a metal detector.
The Tar Heels hit half of their first 16 shots until the Huskies (12-3) tied the score at 20 with 8:40 remaining in the first half. From there the Tar Heels connected on 9 of 40 field-goal attempts (22.5 percent) until the game's final 2:45. The span concluded with a 7:55 stretch of no-field-goal, two-point UNC basketball.
With leading scorer and rebounder Jason Capel at home because of a Jan. 15 concussion, Lang got touches galore inside. However, only 6 of his 21 shots were on target for 15 points. Several shots teased the basket before falling into the hands of a UConn defender such as freshman Emeka Okafor, who snagged 13 rebounds to Lang's two.
"It's just tonight I wasn't hitting a darn thing. It was just one of them nights for me, I guess. It was frustrating," Lang said. "You have to laugh it off. You have to."
This contest certainly was another laugher.
The Huskies led by as much as 41 before UNC's bench ended the game the same way the Tar Heels started, with an 11-2 run.
"Whoever thought we'd be up by 40 on North Carolina?" said Connecticut's Taliek Brown. "The starting five would be on the bench, the walk-ons would be in? The last time we had a lead like that was an exhibition game. We were really surprised."
The Tar Heels couldn't have been.
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