Thu, 21 Mar 2019

No. 12 North Carolina hosts No. 4 Gonzaga

Sports Xchange
15 Dec 2018, 13:07 GMT+10

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina rarely plays a nonconference game at home as an underdog, but that seems like the case for Saturday night's outing at the Smith Center.

Fourth-ranked Gonzaga (9-1) arrives to challenge No. 12 North Carolina (7-2) in a rematch of the 2017 national championship game.

"I do like playing really big games," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said Friday.

He also recognizes the task that his team will face against a team that has spent time with a No. 1 national ranking this season.

"Very difficult for us as a staff to prepare for," Williams said. "They remind me of some of our really, really good teams.

"They can score inside. They can score outside. They can score in the halfcourt. They can push the ball. ... They really do create a lot of problems for you."

For Gonzaga, it's another chance to collide with a traditional power.

Coach Mark Few of the Bulldogs said playing North Carolina is something he cherishes, and he expects it to be a memorable experience for his team.

"We've modeled a lot of our program after Carolina," Few said. "It's classy. It's done the right way, so it just shows you volumes about (Williams). It's a pretty cool thing that, I don't want to say replaying the national-championship game, but revisiting it. ... It will be good."

Gonzaga surged in the opening weeks of the season. The Bulldogs knocked off then-No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational final.

Gonzaga is coming off its lone loss, falling Sunday to now-No. 3 Tennessee. That setback cost the Bulldogs their No. 1 national ranking.

"They've had some big wins," North Carolina guard Cameron Johnson said. "They've had some close games recently. ... They are a veteran team and that makes it a little bit more difficult."

Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins leads the country with 84 total assists.

"I think Perkins is really playing at a high level," Williams said.

Williams said he's impressed with Gonzaga's depth of main contributors.

"They have guys coming off the bench who really help them," he said.

For the Tar Heels, discouraging moments on defense have been most alarming across the first month of the season.

"We're still trying to figure how to play defense with this team," Williams said. "They have to figure out their priorities. You have to have (good) habits. I think we're going to get better. If you look at it, most of our teams have gotten better defensively."

Those were glaring issues in losses to Texas and Michigan.

"The last time we went out against a top-five team, we didn't perform like we wanted to," Johnson said, referring to an 84-67, late-November loss against Michigan, which was No. 7 at the time but is No. 5 this week. "What we can do on the court is a get a little bit of that bad taste out of our month. We saw things that we can fix."

Williams said games like this one against Gonzaga serve a purpose in the team's development.

"Find out a lot about your team early," Williams said.

Few said his background was influenced by studying Williams-coached teams.

"We ran Roy's break and all of Roy's action," Few said.

North Carolina freshman point guard Coby White, who averages 15.3 points and 3.6 assists per game, should be back in action after missing Wednesday's win over UNC Wilmington with an ankle injury.

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