By Matt Bradshaw —
Women’s basketballer Asia Durr marked Groundhog Day with a big accomplishment: The senior moved into second on the program’s all-time scoring list as No. 3 Louisville beat Clemson on the road.
Men’s basketball looked for a big accomplishment too – beating North Carolina for the second straight time – but the opposite occurred instead.
No. 9 UNC (17-5, 7-1) outfought No. 15 U of L (16-6, 7-2) for a lopsided Tar Heel victory at the Yum! Center. Simply put, the Cardinals turned in a poor offensive performance that led to a 79-69 loss.
“Chris (Mack) and I changed spots today from what we did three weeks ago. Louisville slapped us right in the face in our own building,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said about his team’s previous loss to U of L. “My team did some good things and I know that he was probably disappointed with some of the things his team did, just like I was in Chapel Hill. We had greater effort, greater execution.”
Louisville finished shooting 42 percent from the floor, including 34 percent from three-point range. They actually outscored their opponent 41-35 in the second half, so it was the first 20 minutes that proved U of L’s undoing.
“We didn’t come out with much fire,” head coach Chris Mack said. “I’m disappointed for our fans, the great environment. To end the first half with no offensive rebounds and let Carolina dismantle us on the glass…I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in that effort alone.”
North Carolina executed well for revenge on the road, dominating the rebounding battle 49-32 and holding a 38-26 edge in the paint. Nineteen points off turnovers further helped the Tar Heels avenge their Jan. 24 defeat at the hands of the Cards.
A boxing match headlined promotions for the top 15 matchup and U of L sported white-and-black Muhammad Ali-inspired uniforms. The gear failed to get lasting results as UNC led by nine or more points for the entire second half.
“They were the aggressor,” Mack said. “They won damn near every 50/50 ball in the game. Their pressure really bothered us.”
Junior forward Dwayne Sutton and graduate guard Christen Cunningham proved constants for the offense. Sutton scored 19 points (a career high) with eight rebounds and Cunningham scored 15 with nine assists to keep their team somewhat competitive.
Jordan Nwora scored 11 points with seven rebounds, but the sophomore only shot 33 percent from the field.
Excluding Sutton and Cunningham, the Cardinals mirrored Nwora and shot a meager 33 percent overall.
“We were very stagnant on the offensive end, especially in the first half,” Mack said. “We knew it was coming, just didn’t handle it very well. We put ourselves in a position where we were trying to defend in transition backpedaling. It resulted in easy fast break points.”
One positive: Darius Perry. The sophomore has stayed in a slump for most of the season after exiting the starting lineup. Today, he scored eight points with two assists and zero turnovers.
With North Carolina in its rear-view mirror, Louisville must look to the tough schedule ahead. Out of most ACC teams, they’ve played a light conference schedule so far and difficult opponents like Duke and Virginia still remain. The Cards still have a chance to finish at the top of the ACC with a 7-2 record.
“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Mack said. “We’ve got a game in 48 hours.”
Energy from the fans transferred to the team for a quick start, Cunningham making two baskets for a 4-2 lead. The Cards committed two costly turnovers to forfeit the edge, sophomore Malik Williams notched his second foul and the Tar Heels led 10-9 at the first media timeout.
Quick three-pointers from Nwora and Sutton gave Louisville another lead, but North Carolina took it right back with forced turnovers and fast-break points. The visitors continued to lead 18-15 with 12 minutes to go.
UNC made a big break for the lead as U of L missed seven of eight shots. The Tar Heels capitalized on rebounding and points in the paint, topping the scoreboard 24-19 with eight minutes remaining.
From that point on, the Cardinals exhibited their worst offense of the season. They shot 35 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. North Carolina led 44-28 at the half with a 28-12 edge in rebounding, 24-16 edge in the paint and 13 points off turnovers.
“I just thought our entire offense let Carolina push the ball down our throat,” Mack said. “Their basketball was a heck of a lot faster on the offensive end than ours. They’re a really good team and we flipped-flopped performances from Chapel Hill to Louisville.”
Louisville picked up some ground as Nwora nailed an energizing three-pointer to bring the deficit down to 11 points. North Carolina matched the three, as they had in other areas all game, to make their lead 54-39.
It seemed like U of L would never catch up, then Sutton provided steam with a string of three-pointers and hustle plays. He brought the deficit down to nine points at 58-49 with 10 minutes remaining.
A few minutes later, UNC turned it around with a 10-2 run for a 15-point lead. The Cards seemed to have lost their steam and the home crowd quieted with their team trailing.
“It’s the ACC,” Cunningham said. “It’s the best league in the country. You can’t take nights off, especially against North Carolina.”
U of L made one last run for the lead, coming within 10 points of UNC via three’s from Nwora and Perry. The Tar Heels would not be denied and stayed out in front for a 79-69 victory
“We have to have a short-term memory,” Sutton said. “We have to learn from this and play two halves every night in the ACC.”
Louisville men’s basketball travels to face Virginia Tech on Monday, February 4 at 7 p.m.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photos by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal