It was a close game — probably closer than it should have been — but UNC did what they needed in order to keep their NCAA Tournament dreams alive in their 70-63 win over Louisville on Monday. The score stayed remarkably close until the final couple minutes when Carolina was finally able to pull away for good and send the Cardinals to their eighth loss in their last nine games.
The Tar Heels closed the game on a 6-0 run that coincided with a scoring drought of nearly three minutes for the Cardinals. The game was really won right there. Brady Manek was the leading scorer for the Heels with 17 points, just ahead of Caleb Love and RJ Davis with 16 each. Armando Bacot finished the game with 12 points with just two of those points coming after halftime. Louisville did play pretty good defense on Bacot, but his lack of touches in the second half was extremely concerning as the Cardinals hung around until the very end.
Carolina shot 49% from the field in the game, just ahead of Louisville’s 45% mark. Hubert Davis still only played eight-deep with Puff Johnson being the biggest recipient of bench minutes with 12. He was also the only player off the bench to score. That is in direct contrast to Louisville’s 11 players checking in and none of them playing more than 33 minutes. Four of Davis’ players played at least 33 minutes with Love clocking 40 and Bacot at 39.
The lack of bench depth is well-documented at this point and not worth constantly banging the drum over because it isn’t changing, but it is a big hurdle to overcome. These players are being asked to stretch themselves pretty thin and it has really shown at times. This will especially be tough on their legs when asked to play games on quick turnarounds like the ACC Tournament.
Despite the fact that the game was uncomfortably close for the majority of the 40 minutes, UNC did hold a lead for 25 minutes. The Cardinals’ largest lead of the game was four points with just under 13 minutes to go. UNC could never really shake them off and pull ahead, but they did do what they needed in order to maintain control. That was thanks in part to a couple of huge steals from Davis at opportune times in the second half. They were two of 12 steals in the game for the Heels. The takeaways were good, but it was also not Love’s best game at protecting the basketball. He turned it over seven times himself with Bacot chipping in another four. They didn’t cost them in the end, but it led to a lot of unnecessary angina for those of us watching at home.
The assignment for Carolina remains the same from here: they have to win. That is true the rest of the way from here. Next up is a date with NC State in Raleigh on Saturday.