The teams went into the locker room last year tied at 47, the Tar Heels having shot 64 percent from the floor in the opening half. After the break, UNC, trying to dig itself out of a hole, shot just 23 percent and didn’t score for the final four minutes of the game.
“They’re athletic, they’re long, they’ve got a shot-blocker,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “Last year they dominated the last four or five minutes of the game. We didn’t make very many plays.”
This go-around, the Tar Heels could face a similar challenge. Kanas starts four seniors, two of whom started against UNC last season, and one freshman, first-team All-Big 12 member Ben McLemore.
What’s more, Sprint Center is just 40 miles from Lawrence, Kansas, where the Jayhawks lost just a single game this season.
“We’re used to hostile environments, largely against us,” Paige said. “It hopefully won’t have much effect on the game. We just have to worry about what’s happening on the court.”
A defensive stronghold
Last year against the Jayhawks, North Carolina shot a dismal 2-for-17 from beyond the arc, a stat this year’s sharp 3-point shooting team hopes to improve upon.
Up against the NCAA’s leader in field-goal percentage defense, scoring in general could prove much easier said than done.
Kansas holds its opponents, on average, to 36 percent shooting from the floor and is second in the nation in blocks per game (6.6). Returning Kansas starter Jeff Withey averages almost four blocks per game.
“I feel like they play a saggy defense,” Reggie Bullock said. “They don’t really get out and deny the ball. They try to make you get out of your sets, limiting touches to bigs down low.”
James Michael McAdoo said his team didn’t really go into last year’s matchup thinking about Withey’s presence under the basket. This year, they know just what to expect.
And though Kansas’ defense could present the Tar Heels with an uphill battle, McAdoo said they’re not letting it get to their heads.
“The biggest thing that coach really emphasizes is taking it possession by possession, limiting bad shots,” McAdoo said, “because when you’re playing such a good team, bad shots and turnovers just lead to run-outs for them.”
A coach’s ties
Knowing Kansas has never been an issue for Williams. After all, he called it home for 15 years.
At Saturday’s press conference, Williams wistfully reminisced about his days as head coach in Lawrence, telling stories of visiting James Naismith’s grave and asking for divine intervention on game days.
Kansas and North Carolina are both rich in basketball history, and Williams said he felt he and coach Dean Smith, a former Kansas player, were the only ones who truly understood the culture at both schools.
And though Williams has been at North Carolina for 10 years, there’s a part of him, he concedes, that is still connected to the Jayhawks.
“James Moeser was our chancellor (at North Carolina), he said, ‘It’s not immoral to love two institutions,’” Williams said. “And I think that’s the best way to describe what I feel.”
“Someone asked me the other day If I would ever consider coming back and playing a home-and-home against Kansas and I said, ‘No. My athletic director will understand. The new pope will understand. I will never walk out of that far tunnel. That will never happen.”