How fun was that? UNC's red hot streak is now stretched to five games, and their latest was a wildly entertaining performance from the Heels, as they notched their first ever win in the KFC Yum! Center (ugh, that name). Last night's 93-76 win featured another torrid offensive performance from UNC, as well as two plays that are definitely going to make the End-of-Year highlight reel: Luke's Three and Berry's Block.
There was a whole lot to like about what the Heels did to the Cardinals, but several things that stood out were:
Theo Pinson is vitally important to this team's offense
Yes, I know, you were aware of that. But too often this season, Theo's play has been overlooked in favor of Berry's big game performances and the ongoing Luke Maye saga. Which is understandable, but last night was a clear of a reminder as any that Pinson is every bit as essential to the team as the two Naismith finalists.
Theo was the one who set the tone for the Heels in the opening minutes, scoring seven quick points and handing out an assist to give the Tar Heels an early 12-3 lead. Admit it; you screamed 'Nooooo' when he pulled up for that three but he was feeling it and he hit it. From that point on, you had the sense it was going to be one of those nights for Roy's Boys.
Theo had one of his best scoring displays of the season, not only hitting the three and his usual slashes to the basket, but he also was confident hitting the midrange off the dribble. When he's scoring like that, UNC can beat anyone. His playmaking is already a big part of why this team is playing so well, but if he can make defenses fear him looking for his shot, then the sky's the limit for the Heels.
UNC's only real lull of the game came when Pinson went to the bench with two fouls midway through the 2nd half. Carolina went nearly five minutes without a field goal and Louisville was able to claw back into the game. Once Pinson returned to the court, UNC's offense stabilized.
Luke Maye can still dominate when his shot isn't falling
For the majority of last night's game, Luke Maye's shot was MIA. Open threes, midranges, his low post turnaround, nothing was falling. In several previous games, this meant that Luke was in for a long night. His activity on the boards and on defense suffered along with his shot. Last night was different. Maye ripped down six offensive rebounds, most of them in the first half when he was ice cold, and did a tremendous job defensively, tallying four steals and putting in some good minutes on Anas Mahmoud, who was a total non-factor offensively and on the glass.
Louisville is not a bad rebounding team, but Maye's dominance on the glass was one of the key reasons the Tar Heels were able to build and hold onto their lead. Offensive boards and 2nd chance points killed the Cardinals over and over again, psychologically as well as statistically. Second chance points are back breakers and the Heels feasted on them.
As we're all aware, Luke's shot returned by game's end and he finished with 19 and 13, with three assists to go with his steals. But long before he started splashing threes, he had muscled the game out of the Cardinals' hands.
Seventh Woods and Joel Berry can play together
For a couple stretches last night, Roy Williams trotted out a lineup that featured both UNC point guards on the floor at the same time. The resulting effect was that Berry was able to pick his spots and hunt his shot more effectively, with Woods serving as a primary ball handler. Some of us might recall a couple years ago when Berry and Marcus Paige played together and Paige was handling the point guard duties.
Berry is a tremendous floor general, but he is also terrific spot up shooter and if he is able to exclusively look for his shot off the ball for stretches of the game, that is going to be a problem for opposing defenses to address. Woods' return opens up that possibility, which was not tenable when he was sidelined and Jalek Felton was the backup for Berry.
Woods may not be a major contributor but he is much more patient and poised with the ball in his hands than he was last year. At one point in the 2nd half last night, he was forced to basically dribble a lap around the Louisville defense, not finding any of his teammates open and no real opening for himself. Freshman Seventh probably would've tried to force something in that situation. Sophomore Seventh pulled it back out, reset, and found Pinson open for a layup on the second attempt.
Plays like that give Roy Williams confidence in Woods; ability to handle the offense, whether Berry is on the bench or shifted over to the two. And if this scorching UNC offense has yet another facet to it? Good luck defending them going forward.