CHAPEL HILL — It’s a worn out sports cliche. But Saturday, the North Carolina proved that it’s also true.
You really do play like you practice.
Fresh off two straight workouts coach Roy Williams described as “mediocre,” the Tar Heels came out and laid an egg against Louisville — following up road wins at Pittsburgh and NC State with an 83-62 loss in their first ACC home game of the season.
“We couldn’t stand prosperity,” Williams said after the most lopsided defeat ever at Smith Center. “We had two nice road wins, come back home and didn’t have the same type of enthusiasm. Didn’t shoot the ball in the basket, didn’t rebound the ball.
“I’m a little bit at a loss. But that’s okay. It happens in coaching. We have a wonderful group of kids. We’ve got to prepare better.”
It took less than three minutes for Williams to realize that his team might be in trouble.
After Garrison Brooks opened the scoring with a three-point play, the Tar Heels (12-4, 2-1 ACC) surrendered the next 10 points with freshman point guard Coby White committing two turnovers and two fouls.
And it only got worse from there.
Louisville (11-5, 2-1) made its first seven field goal attempts, including five 3-pointers, and never looked back in winning for the first time in four tries in Chapel Hill.
The final 21-point margin marked only the fourth time in the 33-year history of Smith Center that UNC lost by 20 points or more. Only a 29-point beatdown by Duke and a 22-point setback to Wake Forest — both in the forgettable 2001-02 season — were worse.
What made this clunker all the more mystifying is the fact that Louisville was coming off a loss at Pittsburgh — the same Panthers team the Tar Heels routed by 25 on the road one game earlier.
“That’s the perfect example of the ACC,” said senior guard Kenny Williams, whose 12 points made him one of only two UNC players to score in double figures. Forward Cameron Johnson was the other with 11.
“If there’s one game you don’t come to play and they’re on you like that (snapping his fingers). You saw that tonight. That’s all it is. We didn’t come ready to play and they jumped out on us early.
“Our preparation wasn’t where it needed to be. Our intensity wasn’t where it needed to be, effort wasn’t where it needed to be. We kind of got what we deserved.”
Not only did Louisville hurt UNC with its long-range shooting — six different players combined to make 11 3-pointers — but it also dominated inside against the smaller Tar Heels. It outrebounded UNC 40-31 and scored 32 points in the paint.
Big man Steven Enoch finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. He was one of three Cardinals to finish with 17 points, joining Dwayne Sutton and Nwora, who had five of his team’s 3-pointers.
“Let’s congratulate Louisville, too,” Roy Williams said. “They have the right to play well, whether that’s at home or on the road and they played well today. Their positive play caught us at a great time where we had very negative play.”
Louisville opened up as much as a 15-point lead during the first half thanks to a combination of its own hot shooting and UNC’s inability to find any kind of rhythm offensively. It shot just 34.5 percent from the floor and made only three of 22 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
The only real signs of life the Tar Heels showed came during the final three minutes of the half, when seldom-used big man Brandon Huffman came off the bench to score four points and grab a round to help his team cut the deficit to 43-34 at the break.
Brooks, as he did to start the game, then got UNC to within seven by scoring at the rim on the opening possession.
But that’s as close as UNC would get the rest of the way. The Cardinals scored the next eight points to reestablish their lead. And from that point on, the only mystery was how big their margin of victory would be.
“I tried to get some guys going and tried to get things picked up out there,” said Johnson. “Sometimes when things are going south, it’s hard to fight. We just have to do a better job with that.”