No. 8 North Carolina wary of Pittsburgh

North Carolina is making a run at a No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament.

But the first matter of business is winning the ACC regular-season crown.

The No. 8 Tar Heels are in superb position to win the tough 15-team conference and look to move closer to claiming the title when they visit Pittsburgh on Saturday.

North Carolina (24-5, 12-3 ACC) holds a two-game lead over a quartet of teams — Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame. A solid 74-63 home victory over Louisville on Wednesday gave the Tar Heels the multiple-game cushion.

“We keep talking about how we control our own destiny,” junior guard Joel Berry II said. “We’re at the top and we want to stay there. So closing this season out, we want to continue doing what we’re doing and continue to win.”

The Tar Heels have won three straight games and five of their past six. They are playing solid basketball at the right time of the season but coach Roy Williams isn’t feeling all that comfortable.

He is less than thrilled that the schedule calls for his team to play at No. 18 Virginia on Monday two days after the contest in Pittsburgh.

“Well, it is a competitive league, but it says we have a two-game lead right now but there’s still some left to play,” Williams said. “We’re getting ready to go on one of those trips I don’t think any team in our league should have to do, on the road on Saturday and on the road on Monday.”

The Panthers will try to get up off the mat after allowing a 19-point lead slip away during Wednesday’s 63-59 road loss to Wake Forest.

The collapse prevented Pittsburgh from recording its fourth win in a five-game span and instead resulted in a highly disappointing setback.

“It’s a game we felt like we should have won,” Panthers coach Kevin Stallings said. “It’s not the first time this year we’ve been a little tight in the second half and don’t shoot it well.”

Pitt, which is tied for 12th place with Clemson in the ACC, has been solid at home with an 11-5 mark.

The Panthers rely on the productive duo of senior forward Michael Young and senior guard Jamel Artis. Young has scored 20 or more points on 15 occasions while averaging 20.4 points and 7.0 rebounds. He ranks seventh in school history with 1,757 career points.

Artis is averaging 19.3 points and has made 67 3-pointers, second on the team behind sophomore guard Cameron Johnson (12.0 average, 69 3-pointers).

Johnson matched his career high of 24 points and made a career-best six 3-pointers when Pitt gave North Carolina a scare on Jan. 31 before falling 80-78. Artis was off the mark with a last-second 3-pointer.

North Carolina also features two prolific 3-point shooters in junior forward Justin Jackson (78) and Berry (64). Jackson averages a team-best 18.7 points while Berry chips in 14.6 per game.

Senior center Kennedy Meeks has recorded nine double-doubles this season while averaging 12.7 points and a team-best 9.1 rebounds. Meeks has 939 career rebounds and needs three to pass ninth-place Eric Montross (1990-94) on the school’s all-time list.

Senior forward Isaiah Hicks (12.1) also averages in double digits for the Tar Heels, who have looked impressive while winning their past three games by an average of 19.7 points.

“I feel good that we’re on top,” Williams said. “I’d rather be on top than third, seventh or 15th but there’s still a lot of work to do.”