The North Carolina basketball team kicked off its west coast trip by imposing itself on Stanford late Monday night. It was a tight game throughout much of the first half, but the Tar Heels (3-0) — propelled by impressive guard play — ran away from the Cardinal (3-2) in the second half to complete the win, 96-72.
Berry returns to form
Joel Berry II looks like the Final Four Most Outstanding Player again.
Berry was abysmal in his season debut against Bucknell. After knocking down his first shot, he proceeded to miss 10 straight. Considering he was named to the Bob Cousy Award Watch List, no one expected this of Berry for the rest of the season.
However, few expected Berry to approach his career high in the very next game.
Berry knocked down five 3-pointers on his way to a 29-point performance — two points short of his career high. Eighteen of those points came in the first half.
It cannot be understated how important Berry is to this squad. The senior guard provides the Tar Heels with floor spacing with his shooting ability, ball handling and senior leadership. As he continues to find his groove, the roster will become more comfortable.
Kenny Williams has fun
Kenny Williams was on fire in the first half.
The junior guard was good for 20 points, including the first 14 points of the game for UNC. He hit six 3-pointers in the first half, and now sits at 62.5 percent from beyond the arc in the young season. And what might be most impressive: not all of Williams' looks were catch-and-shoot threes. He was able to make a dribble move a pull-up and create his own shot — something Williams has not done often in his time at North Carolina.
Williams has had some shooting struggles at times, but he's also had his games where it looks like he can’t miss. Take last season’s game against Radford for example. He hit four threes and had 16 points in the first half.
These types of performances can keep opposing game-planners off-balance. While they are often unpredictable, they are welcome when they come about.
Something that has shone through in UNC’s first few games is its ability to score from different areas.
The scoring load in the frontcourt was a topic of conversation before the season, but strong outings by Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and — on Monday — Brandon Huffman answered a few of those questions. It’s still early, but Brooks and Manley look more polished on the offensive end than a lot of people thought coming into the year.
Maye led the big men with 12 points against Stanford — eight of which came in the second half. And Huffman made the most of his minutes on Monday with eight points on 2-2 shooting from the field.
The talent and depth of the backcourt hasn’t been questioned. There are so many options when in it comes to guard scoring, and each player offers a different skill set.
North Carolina's win over Stanford was a great mark for this offensive versatility. In the first half, North Carolina only had 10 points come from its frontcourt, while Williams and Berry put up 38 combined. In the second half, North Carolina more or less went back to its roots and relied on the post for most of its scoring.
When (or if) the Tar Heels return to full strength, they should be able to hit teams from any and all angles.