No. 5 North Carolina opens Maui Invitational against Chaminade
After mostly cruising through four games, fifth-ranked North Carolina takes a different kind of challenge this week.
The Maui Invitational should test the Tar Heels' endurance.
North Carolina has won each game by double-digit margins, so the likelihood for heightened competition is appealing at this stage of the season.
“I think that is what the whole team wants,” Tar Heels guard Joel Berry said. “We want a good challenge. We still have to go out there and play our hardest, so we can try and get better. I think going out to Maui and playing against some better competition will help us.”
The tournament schedule calls for three games in three days at Lahaina Civic Center, with the Tar Heels beginning Monday night against tournament host Chaminade (2-0), a Division II program.
This is North Carolina's seventh appearance in the Maui Invitational, with the Tar Heels reaching the finals five times and winning the 1999, 2004 and 2008 events. The Tar Heels have a 15-3 record in the tournament.
Coach Roy Williams said the competition is important. He's also prone to point out the fringe benefits of the trip because he enjoys tropical weather.
“We go to Maui every four years for a reason — the head coach likes it,” Williams said.
Yet the Tar Heels are aware that the basketball value is of utmost importance.
“We have to go with the right mindset,” senior forward Kennedy Meeks said. “I know it's a nice place to go.”
North Carolina holds a 4-0 record for the first time since November 2012.
Freshman post player Tony Bradley has scored in double figures in all four North Carolina games. That's the most consecutive games in double figures at the beginning of a college career for a Tar Heel since Brandan Wright's 18-game stretch in 2006-07.
Williams, with a 787-209 coaching record, moved into ninth place in Division I men's coaching victories with Friday night's 83-68 win at Hawaii. He passed Lefty Driesell.
That game also resulted in the lowest point total of the season for the Tar Heels, who rang up more than 90 points in the first three games of the season — something they hadn't done in 22 years.
This marks the third Maui Invitational appearance in a row in which the Tar Heels will match up with Chaminade, though the last time it came in a consolation round.
Chaminade, which was coming off a 12-15 record in 2015-16, hasn't played since winning Nov. 11 and 12 against Alaska Anchorage and Alaska, respectively, to open the new season.
“Our defense has been really, really good,” sixth-year coach Eric Bovaird said on the school's web site. “It's something we've focused on. We're getting better. It's something we're going to focus on.”
Guards Rohndell Goodwin and Kiran Shastri averaged 24 and 20.5 points in the opening two games for Chaminade. Sam Daly, who was among the best in the Pacific West Conference last season in assists and steals, is a senior guard in his second year with the Silverswords after transferring from Grand Canyon.
“Starting out 2-0 going into Maui feels really good,” Bovaird said.
The North Carolina-Chaminade winner takes on the Connecticut-Oklahoma State winner in Tuesday night's semifinals, while the losers meet in the consolation bracket.