Nassau, Bahamas (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels and the 18th-ranked Florida Gators will duke it out for fifth place in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Friday night at Imperial Arena.
UNC came into this event as one of the favorites but had its championship aspirations squashed in the quarterfinals with a 74-66 loss to Butler. The Tar Heels were able to bounce back nicely on Thursday with a convincing 78-56 triumph in a showdown with UCLA to improve to 4-1 on the season.
Florida had already shown to be vulnerable early in the season with a 69-67 home loss to Miami-Florida on Nov. 17, and its struggles continued in the quarterfinals with a 66-65 overtime loss to Georgetown to fall to the consolation side of the bracket. The Gators had a difficult time with UAB on Thursday but eventually captured a 56-47 victory to move to 3-2.
These two historic programs have met just five times before, with UNC holding a 3-2 advantage. In the only meeting in the past 40 years, the Tar Heels won back in 2000, 71-59.
The Tar Heels put together an 18-4 run to close out the first half of their contest with UCLA on Thursday and cruised from there to capture the 22-point victory. They shot a modest 41.8 percent from the field and drained eight 3- pointers, but they really shined on the defensive end of the floor, holding UCLA to less than 39 percent shooting (including just 1-of-14 from 3-point range) while forcing 23 turnovers, which they turned into 31 points. Marcus Paige put up a game-high 21 points to go with five assists and three steals. Justin Jackson added 12 points and Isaiah Hicks and J.P. Tokoto chipped in 10 points apiece.
On the season, North Carolina lives comfortably in terms of its scoring (+18.4 ppg), rebounding (+5.2) and turnover (+4.6) margins, while outshooting its opponents from the field, 44.9 percent to 33.9 percent. Despite shooting under 38 percent from the floor, Paige still leads the way with 15.0 ppg. Kennedy Meeks is a nightly double-double threat with 13.0 ppg and 9.0 rpg. Brice Johnson (11.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Jackson (11.6 ppg) are also consistently reliable options.
The Gators struggled to put UAB away on Thursday and even trailed by two inside of four minutes remaining, but they closed the game out in style by scoring the final 11 points to capture the nine-point victory. It was far from their most impressive shooting performance - they shot just 34 percent from the floor, including 7-of-23 from 3-point range - but they won the rebounding battle (39-30) and forced UAB into a game-high 16 turnovers. Michael Frazier II drained three 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 14 points, Chris Chiozza came off the bench to score 13 points and swipe six steals and Jon Horford logged eight points and eight rebounds.
Florida has played outstanding defense all season long, yielding a mere 56.6 ppg, but its effort on the offensive end of the floor has lagged behind, as it shoots a lowly 40.1 percent from the field for 63.4 ppg. Frazier pours in 14.8 ppg to lead the team while adding 6.0 rpg and more than a steal per game as well. Dorian Finney-Smith (12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Eli Carter (11.7 rpg) and Horford (11.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) are also off to solid starts.