Texas-North Carolina Preview
With North Carolina seemingly distracted by this matchup against Texas, coach Roy Williams' team came out with a sluggish effort early in its last game.
It's safe to say the fifth-ranked Tar Heels - perhaps eager for revenge - will be up for Wednesday night's meeting with the Longhorns in Chapel Hill.
In the midst of a lengthy stretch of home games against mostly overmatched opponents - and a visit from Texas (9-2) looming - North Carolina (10-2) put on an uninspired display before eventually pulling away in Monday's 99-49 victory over Nicholls State.
"I thought we were going to come out with a little more fire than we did, just getting prepared for Texas," said sophomore Reggie Bullock, who posted 10 points and a career-best 10 rebounds off the bench. "We just can't look ahead to other teams next time. We've just got to come out and take that opponent and play hard from the beginning."
The Tar Heels will look to do just that versus the Longhorns, who have given them fits over the last two seasons. Texas beat North Carolina 103-90 on Dec. 19, 2009, in a matchup of top-10 teams at Cowboys Stadium, then prevailed 78-76 in Greensboro, N.C., last December.
The Longhorns have won four straight in the series dating back to 1995, but with four freshmen among their top five scorers and Harrison Barnes headlining a group of returning Tar Heel stars, Texas coach Rick Barnes knows Wednesday's game presents a whole new challenge.
"I think it is a different team. They have gotten guys back and they have more depth," Barnes said. "... They are an extremely talented team. They are aggressive, a team that can score a lot of points a lot of different ways and from different places on the floor.
"Though games like this are big, the focus is for us to get better."
Texas enters its most difficult test of the season riding a bit of momentum after winning seven straight, including Saturday's 77-65 victory over Temple. The Longhorns have outscored opponents by an average of 22.7 points during their run.
"I don't know if anything has clicked, but we have steadily improved," senior Clint Chapman said. "That happens when you have a young team like this. You take one step and you want to build and improve on it. The biggest thing so far is that the guys are starting to understand roles."
The Longhorns start three freshmen, including highly touted point guard Myck Kabongo, who scored 18 points against the Owls. Kabongo has made his presence felt lately - averaging 12.8 points, 6.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds in his last six games - and he's aware of the significance of Wednesday's contest.
"It would be a great win for the program," he said. "We have beaten them twice in the last couple of years, so I know they are going to come into this game having something to prove. We have something to prove, too. I think it is going to be a great game for college basketball fans to watch. It will be exciting to be a part of it."
The Longhorns will have their hands full with a Tar Heels team that leads the nation with an average of 44.9 boards, thanks largely to big men Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
That number was augmented by a gaudy total against a far smaller Nicholls State roster Monday. The Tar Heels shot just 43.5 percent from the floor but held a 72-35 rebounding advantage - matching the second-highest rebound total in the program's history. Their 31 offensive boards were also the second-most in school history.
North Carolina has taken 71 straight non-conference home games versus unranked foes by an average of 26.5 points.