WRITER'S NOTE: This column has been annotated after the fact, though the reader should make note that it was done while Duke's Zion Williamson was causing a near earthquake in the arena a few feet away. This version adds quotes, commentary, corrections and illustration, where possible. All additions appear in italics.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) -- This wasn't the near-complete physical domination that North Carolina threw at Louisville in their second meeting this season, even though the final margin was larger.
This was a speed show. North Carolina stunned Louisville with early transition, and the Cardinals could never effectively catch up.
"Carolina is a great team," Louisville coach Chris Mack said after the game. "They were better than us tonight, that's for sure. And it's nothing that we didn't know coming in. But I thought where the game got out of reach for us early on was because of their transition. I mean it's phenomenal, as fast as any team I've coached against."
The Tar Heels hit Louisville with a series of heavy blows, including one right from the opening tip to storm to a 13-point lead early during their ACC Tournament quarterfinal meeting Thursday.
Louisville absorbed that blow, eventually pulling back to within one, and it wasn't the last UNC flurry the Cardinals would weather. The problem was that the Cardinals could never really land any blows of their own, playing catch-up for most of the night until North Carolina sped away at about the eight minute mark with a combination of blocked shots and turnovers. Final score: North Carolina 83, Louisville 70.
The early takeaways:
1). IN A TRACK MEET, UNC WINS. The one thing Louisville coach Chris Mack said that his team could not do at all costs was allow North Carolina to get onto the break and score easy points in transition.
North Carolina scored 27 fast-break points, an unusually high number. Louisville scored 15, which was respectable, but clearly, for too many segments of the game, played North Carolina's game.
"We kept running," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We practice running every day, and it's been pretty good to us."
Said Mack: "You talk about it, but talking doesn't prepare you sometimes. And you give those guys credit, they were shot out of a cannon, that ball was up the floor and in such a hurry and got to the rim, they hit the rim runner a couple times, they get advance pass threes to Cam Johnson and really, really put us back. And we were never able to recover enough."
2). LOUISVILLE COMPETED PHYSICALLY. North Carolina completely overpowered Louisville in the second meeting, sending a message not just to a team that had scored a 21-point upset in Chapel Hill but to the rest of the ACC. Since then, North Carolina has lost only once, and has put itself in consideration for a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
Louisville stood up to that test better on Thursday, though clearly North Carolina was the more physically gifted team.
The Cardinals kept it relatively close on the boards, but in the end they could not keep North Carolina from shifting into track-meet speed late, and wound up losing the rebounding battle 44-35 -- in part because Mack had to pull one player off the offensive glass to help his defense get back in transition.
Mack was highly irritated at his team's transition defense early, calling timeout at one point just to get after Jordan Nwora, describing his defensive effort on the preceding UNC break with a term that included the letter "B' and the letter "S."
"The floor was tilted, even on made shots we could not get back and ended up adjusting," Mack said. ". . . I think it was more them trying to swing a knockout punch early and play downhill. And Coby White made the right decision each and every time whether it was an advance pass to Cam Johnson, whether it was to Brooks underneath, I mean even when Malik got his first foul of the game it was in transition right under the restricted arc. So they're a load when they play that quickly. Not just Kenny Williams, but all those guys I thought were very, very handsy, they pressured our guards, they did a really good job on ball screen coverage for the most part and they have terrific length and great anticipation. And while we took care of the ball well in the first half we certainly didn't do it well enough in the second half to give ourselves a chance to cut the margin even further.
3). TURNOVER TROUBLE. It's not that Louisville turned it over so much. It was the manner and timing of the Cards' turnovers that were the problem. Three quick ones helped lead to a 12-0 North Carolina at about the 8-minute mark, stretching a 7-point lead to 19.
Six of those 12 points came on the break, and that ended any chance Louisville had to climb closer late and steal one.
"In the second half we just, we had too many turnovers," Mack said. "And that's what went from about a 10-point, 11-point margin where, hey, we got a fighter's chance to get this to a couple possession game if we handle ourselves and we turned the ball over and that wasn't a trait of ours the first 30 minutes, but it was the last 10."
4). PAINT PROBLEMS. In part because of all those fast-break points, North Carolina's points in the paint were a bit inflated. Still, they scored far too easily in the post early and finished with 38 points in the paint.
Luke Maye had 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting to lead that effort.
5). NO HOT HANDS. In the end, to beat a top-shelf team like North Carolina, Louisville has to have people making perimeter jumpers. The Cards need the three-pointer in these games.
In this one, the usual sources, Jordan Nwora and Ryan McMahon came up empty, going 1-for-10 from beyond the arc.
Louisville got an offensive lift from Dwayne Sutton, who finished with 14 points and made 4 of 9 threes. They also got 12 points from Steven Enoch and 10 from Malik Williams.
Darius Perry gave the Cards a lift at point guard, finishing with 10 points in 18 minutes, and did not have a turnover.
The Cards now return to Louisville to await their NCAA Tournament assignment.
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.