Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 94-78 victory on Friday afternoon over UCLA in the Las Vegas Invitational.
- I must be honest, during the first half I was prepared to say that this game was essentially just a continuation of all the same issues from the Texas game (and the first half was). I could have said, “I don’t need to write Quick Hitters tonight, just re-read last night’s.” I had the early season tournament cliché all lined up: “It’s always said of these mini tournaments that a really good team is going to leave 0-2. Unfortunately in this instance, that team was Carolina.” But then the second half happened and I had to scratch all of that.
- I was curious to see how Coby White would follow up his big night. Was the 33-point explosion just a foreshadowing of things that would come later in the season or the new normal? White responded by scoring 10 of Carolina’s first 17 and finished with 19 total points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-7 from three. While 19 is certainly less than 33, this was a more impressive performance because he didn’t just create for himself but also dished out eight assists to teammates (against only two turnovers). This balance of scoring and assisting is exactly what Coach Williams will be looking for. All-in-all a great two game stretch from the freshman point guard.
- The one thing White struggled with was foul trouble. Seventh Woods was still out with a concussion, so Leaky Black once again handled the back-up point guard minutes. Thursday night, the offense severely bogged down with Black running the show. While his stat line wasn’t gaudy against UCLA, he didn’t turn the ball over, had two assists and scored five points on 2-for-3 shooting. Black is gaining valuable experience and looking more comfortable running the team. His best play came early in the second half. With UNC up 55-54, Black blocked a shot (the ball hit the backboard first; it was an obvious goal tend…shhhhh don’t tell anyone), corralled the loose ball and threw a court length bounce pass to Kenny Williams for the fast break layup. Here’s that sequence:
- Carolina has committed double-digit turnovers in every game thus far, including 18 and 17 in the previous two games. White turned the ball over on the first possession of the game and we appeared to be headed for more of the same. However the Heels committed only four more the rest of the half and just one in the second half for a season low of six.
- The senior trio of Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cam Johnson struggled mightily shooting against Texas. Those woes carried over into the first half of the UCLA game. However in the second half they shot a combined 10-for-12, totaling 30 of Carolina’s 53 points.
- It’s been well documented that Kenny Williams has been struggling with his shot this year (although had a great shooting performance against UCLA). Rather than sulking, he’s found a new way to contribute offense by turning himself into Theo Pinson-type play maker. Prior to this year, Williams averaged 1.6 assists per game. This year he’s averaging a career-high 4.7 assists per game and 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Here’s to hoping there will be a lot of Tar Heels pointing at Kenny Williams throughout this season.
- Johnson was on fire after halftime, scoring the Heels’ first nine points. The most impressive of which was his second bucket. After burying a three on the previous possession, he could have easily decided to hoist another, but wisely chose to drive baseline for a lay-up. He followed up that play with a steal on UCLA’s next possession, which he quickly returned to Carolina’s basket for two more points. Here’s all three of those plays:
- UCLA’s 7’1” freshman Moses Brown has had an impressive start to his college career. There was some concern how Carolina’s bigs would handle Brown’s presence. Cutting to the chase, Brown fouled out with 7:40 remaining having only played eight minutes.
- Garrison Brooks had two under-the-radar-but-very-important plays that you might have missed. One showed up in the box score, the other didn’t. First, UCLA had the ball, up seven, with about 5:30 left before halftime. Brandon Robinson got a steal and Brooks somehow slapped the ball ahead to Coby White for a fast break dunk. No box score assist to Brooks (that went to Robinson for some reason), but a huge play and UCLA never pushed their lead back to double-digits. The other notable play was Brooks’ only two points of the night. The Bruins had cut Carolina’s lead down to seven and fouled Brooks with 7:40 remaining. He stepped to the line, a career 59.5 percent free throw shooter, and calmly sunk both free throws to push the lead back to nine. Here’s the “slap-ahead”:
- Defense still needs to be cleaned up. The Heels allowed UCLA to hit their first seven shots and nine of their first 11 shots. The Bruins’ first miss came almost five minutes into the game. Once again, staying in front of the ball is of the utmost importance. Carolina played much tougher and attentive defense in the second half, even securing a shot clock violation at 12:19.
- Nassir Little was in much more intentional attack mode this game; not settling for jump shots. The highlight of the game was his go-ahead dunk at the 12:00 minute mark of the second half, after which the Heels never again trailed. Here’s the dunk:
- A stat it would be easy to miss, part 1: Brandon Robinson had four assists and zero turnovers.
- A stat it would be easy to miss, part 2: reserve KJ Smith has scored in every game in which he’s played so far this season.
- The Las Vegas Invitational promised to teach us a lot about this team. And it did. But there’s still a lot to learn. How would these games have looked with Seventh Woods in the mix? How will the freshmen respond to a true road environment against a strong defensive opponent (Michigan)? Stay tuned because games against Michigan, Gonzaga and Kentucky over the next several weeks will be revelatory.
Roy Williams postgame press conference:
Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a road game against Michigan in the ACC / Big Ten Championship. Tip is on Wednesday, November 28 at 9:00ET on ESPN.
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