Louisville hands No. 12 UNC worst home loss under Roy Williams
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Louisville went from suffering a confidence-jarring loss against a long-struggling Atlantic Coast Conference program to handing Roy Williams his worst home loss in 16 seasons with North Carolina.
Tough to explain? Even the Hall of Famer had a hard time with that.
“We never really got into the game,” Williams said after Saturday’s 83-62 defeat to the Cardinals. “I’d like to give you a brilliant answer as to why, but I can’t give you that brilliant answer.”
It was as mystifying a performance from No. 12 UNC — which had started league play with two road wins — as it was a strong effort from Louisville following Wednesday’s overtime loss to Pittsburgh.
First-year coach Chris Mack said there was “some soul searching” after that setback, which snapped Pitt’s 23-game losing streak in ACC regular-season games. The Panthers had lost by 25 points at home to the Tar Heels a few days earlier.
Louisville (11-5, 2-1) responded by strolling into Chapel Hill, jumping on UNC early and turning a 43-34 halftime lead into an unexpected rout.
“I’ve been around the game enough to know you can be humbled on any given night and then erase a bitter feeling a few nights later,” Mack said. “I don’t know how football coaches do it, they get one game a week.”
Connecticut transfer Steven Enoch had season highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Cardinals, causing all kinds of matchup problems with his 6-foot-11 frame and strength to post up deep in the paint. Dwayne Sutton added 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to flirt with a triple double, helping the Cardinals shoot 52 percent while hitting 11 3-pointers.
More importantly, the Cardinals controlled the glass (40-31) against one of the nation’s best rebounding teams, keeping the Tar Heels from getting loose in transition (four fast-break points) with solid defense.
“Angry should be the motto for this team — playing angry and aggressive,” Enoch said. “That’s how it’s always been for Louisville basketball.”
Kenny Williams scored 12 points for the Tar Heels (12-4, 2-1), who spent most of Saturday looking like a team searching for something — anything — to build around. They shot 35 percent, including 3 of 22 on 3-pointers, and committed 11 second-half turnovers.
Louisville: The Pitt loss certainly was a low point considering the Panthers had lost 25 of 26 games against league teams since February 2017. The Cardinals didn’t spend much time sulking, instead hitting their first seven shots with four 3-pointers to quickly set the tone.
“Our locker room was pretty glum, I didn’t help the matter when I walked in and got after them,” Mack said of the Pitt loss. “I thought their response was pretty good.
“But I said at one point to our coaching staff: ‘Hey, we could come in here and play really hard and play really well and play together and still lose. Good teams do that.’ … So yeah, a little surprised, but pleased with our guys’ effort and attitude and response from the Pittsburgh game.”
UNC: It was hard to see this coming. The Tar Heels had won four straight, the first three by at least 20 points followed by a victory at 15th-ranked rival North Carolina State on Tuesday night. Yet all that momentum vanished in a woeful performance that included bad shooting, a poor performance on the glass and defense that frequently failed to beat the Cardinals to a spot.
“I’m a little bit of a loss, but that’s OK,” Williams said. “It happens in coaching. We have a wonderful group of kids that we’ve got to prepare better, and we’ve got a head coach that’s trying but not doing very well.”
Roy Williams’ previous worst margin of defeat in Chapel Hill with UNC was a 69-53 loss to rival Duke in March 2013. It was also UNC’s worst home loss since January 2002, an 87-58 loss to Duke under former coach Matt Doherty during an 8-20 season.
Roy Williams said the Tar Heels had a “very mediocre” practice two days ago, then another Friday.
“Having good practices leading into the games means a lot,” said season-leading scorer Cameron Johnson, who had 10 points. “Even with that being said, no excuse to play the way we did.”
Louisville: The Cardinals host Boston College on Wednesday
UNC: The Tar Heels host Notre Dame on Tuesday.
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