The moment is at hand, Wayne Blackshear standing alone in the corner. A chance to erase some disapponting expectations, create a highlight for Sports Center. Not this time, the shot bounding off the rim, North Carolina defeating the University of Louisville, 72-71.
Things actually began to head south at the 6:24 mark on Montrezl Harrell’s enigmatic inbounds pass between two North Carolina players, ball winding up in Marcus Paige’s hands, quickly dumping a three-point shot, cutting UofL’s lead to seven points at 65-58. UNC would outscore UofL 13-5 the rest of the way.
Fatigue had caught up with the depth-challenged Cardinals who had a sum total of four rebounds and zero points from the bench. Time taking a toll, affecting the offense and, especially, the defensive intensity, wearing down the Cardinals when it most counted. All that effort down the tubes.
Guess where Rick Pitino’s focus will be over the next week?
Chris Jones continuing to play at a high level, unitimidated by the North Carolina tradition, the Dean Dome or the crowd of 21,750. He would connect on eight of 12 field goal attempts, including three 3-pointers, and make and five assists.
Terry Rozier making crucial shot after crucial shot until that desperation attempt at the end. Finishing the day on a game-high 25 points to go with four rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Montrezl Harrell, criticized by Pitino’s for his lack of rebounding (“He was terrible on the boards,” said the coach) could manage only five rebounds and nine points.
Chinanu Okuaku, the 6-foot-9 freshman, may have provided some hope in the middle,taking this game seriously, not backing down, standing his ground, actally looking to score. Making three of four shots, two of two free throws, eight rebounds, and two blocks.
Pitino said afterward his team played one of its better games. Probably should have won. His biggest challenge is to get his starters more support from a young, inexperienced and largely untested bench. Jones, Rozier and Harrell were on the floor 37 or more minutes — and that’s a bit much to ask.