No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 UNC brace for uptempo game
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina didn’t have much of a problem going at a slower pace at times in its last game.
The No. 8 Tar Heels will encounter an opponent Wednesday night more willing to operate at a brisker clip when No. 7 Louisville visits the Smith Center for a game with first-place implications in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It’s always a fun team to play against because they have a fun style of play,” Louisville coach Pitino said of the Tar Heels. “It’s always an uptempo game and I know my guys like to play that way.”
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North Carolina coach Roy Williams said it will require shifting gears, but that’s something the Tar Heels should enjoy.
“It will be a much different game than what it was against Virginia,” Williams said. “Up and down and they like to press. It’s a vastly different type of game we’re going to play.”
North Carolina (23-5, 11-3 ACC), which is involved in a stretch of a late-season showdowns, holds a one-game lead on Louisville (22-5, 10-4) and Duke, which will be wrapping up its contest at Syracuse at about the time of tip-off in Chapel Hill.
Even with the 65-41 romp past Virginia on Saturday night, North Carolina ranks fifth nationally in scoring with 86.9 points per game.
“It’s kind of weird because we’re used to scoring in the 80s and 90s,” Tar Heels guard Joel Berry said. “It just felt different, but if we have to win a game like that, we have to win it like that. If we have to play at someone else’s pace, we’re going to do our best to beat them.”
Under Williams, the Tar Heels are 10-2 at the Smith Center in Top 10 matchups, though this is the first such matchup against an ACC opponent since a game with Duke five years ago.
Louisville often encourages a faster tempo by playing a full-court defense, something that might feed into North Carolina’s preferences. Yet the Cardinals haven’t reached the level defensively that Pitino would like to see on a regular basis.
“We’re getting better in some stages, but we’re nowhere near where we were four years ago,” Pitino said.
The coach’s view on the subject was certainly impacted by the Cardinals’ 94-90 victory Saturday against Virginia Tech, marking the first time an opponent had scored more than 80 points on his team this season.
Pitino said North Carolina junior swingman Justin Jackson has become one of the premier players in the college game based on his production.
Jackson has led the Tar Heels in scoring 15 times this season, reaching the 20-point mark in 14 games. He’s seventh in the ACC in scoring, averaging 18.6 points per game.
Guard Donovan Mitchell, at 15.6 per game, is Louisville’s top scorer.
Louisville and North Carolina have split four meetings since the Cardinals joined the ACC, though this is only the second time they’ll play in Chapel Hill as league members.
This marks the second-to-last home game for North Carolina, with visits to Pittsburgh and Virginia before another game that could directly impact the top of the standings when Duke shows up for the regular-season finale.