Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Jockeying for position in the top-heavy ACC, the 13th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the 10th-ranked Louisville Cardinals in a key conference battle at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels come in with plenty of momentum, as they have won six straight games. UNC was most recently in action on Monday as the Heels knocked off Syracuse in a shootout, 93-83. With the win, North Carolina moved to 7-1 in conference play, good for third place behind No. 2 Virginia and No. 8 Notre Dame.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals aren't far behind, as they are sporting a 5-2 mark in their first season in the ACC. Louisville has won two straight and three of its last four games, including Wednesday's 81-72 victory at Boston College.
North Carolina holds a 10-3 advantage in the all-time series with Louisville and is seeking the regular-season sweep after earning a hard-fought 72-71 decision over Louisville in Chapel Hill on Jan. 10.
North Carolina trailed Syracuse by five points at halftime, but caught fire after the break, shooting .621 from the field and rolling up 58 points over the final 20 minutes of action to earn the 10-point decision. Star guard Marcus Paige came up huge in the win, posting 22 points, six rebounds and eight assists. Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt and Brice Johnson each poured in 17 points, with Johnson completing a double-double with 11 rebounds in the win.
That kind of offensive firepower is nothing new for North Carolina this season, as the team is averaging a robust 80.0 ppg and doing so on a solid .468 shooting. UNC also likes to enforce its will on the glass, where it outrebounds foes by more than 10 caroms per game (+10.1). Scoring depth is apparent with four of the five starters averaging double figures. Paige is the straw that stirs the drink in Chapel Hill though, as he paces UNC in scoring (14.1 ppg), assists (4.2 apg) and steals (30). Meeks (13.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Johnson (12.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg) are a potent one-two punch in the frontcourt. Justin Jackson (10.0 ppg) and J.P. Tokoto (9.0 ppg) add even more options.
The Cardinals will attempt to slow down the Tar Heels with their stingy defensive play. It has been a staple with Louisville this season, as the team holds opponents to a mere 58.5 ppg. Opponents are shooting under 40 percent from the floor (.373) and under 30 percent from behind the arc (.293). The Cardinals have four double-digit scoring averages on the roster as well, with the best of the bunch being sophomore guard Terry Rozier and his 18.1 ppg (third in the ACC). Junior Montrezl Harrell is the team's top playmaker in the frontcourt, as he shoots .578 from the floor and averages 14.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game (fifth in the ACC). Chris Jones (13.4 ppg) and Wayne Blackshear (11.8 ppg) provide support.
Despite shooting a sterling .580 from the floor in the game, Louisville was unable to really distance itself from Boston College until the end. It was the guard play which made the difference, as Rozier and Jones combined for 51 points in the victory. Jones was a stellar 10-of-13 from the floor and led all scorers with 28 points. Rozier poured in 23 points, while Harrell and Blackshear checked in with 12 and 10 points, respectively.