Louisville entered Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off final with a staggering plus-13.4 turnover margin, due in large part to Rick Pitino’s oppressive defensive style.
North Carolina’s approach consisted of getting the ball into the middle of the court, filling the lanes and then attacking to get layups in transition or other open looks.
UNC committed the same number of turnovers as Louisville (14), but dished out 10 mores assists (18-8).
Britt (five assists, four turnovers) stayed aggressive as Louisville ramped up the fullcourt pressure in the second half, oftentimes finding lanes to the basket.
“Nate did a great job,” Paige told reporters following UNC’s 93-84 victory. “He had two guys pretty much on him the whole time. We were poised for the most part besides a couple of crazy sideline passes that went out of bounds or traps. Nate did a great job of handling the pressure and we just ran our press offense the way we were supposed to.”
Paige (two assists, four turnovers) primarily played off the ball and served as UNC’s primary scoring threat with a career-high 32 points on 9-of-12 shooting, although he slid over to the point when Roy Williams decided to go big with J.P. Tokoto at the two.
“Take away some silly turnovers and I thought Marcus and Nate really did a good job,” Williams said. “Nate’s drives to the basket – he missed one late that I thought he was going to make – but his drives to the basket sometimes were really important for us as well.”
As UNC slowly increased its second half lead, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino lengthened his defense’s reach, which brought another Tar Heel weapon into play - Meeks.
Williams has often praised Meeks (13 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, one turnover) as possibly having the best outlet pass of any big he’s ever coached, and the rookie center showcased those skills on Sunday. On four different occasions, Meeks threw over top of the Louisville defense to find a teammate for a dunk or layup.
“Coach always tells our wings that he wants us to sprint as soon as you see Kennedy get the ball because he knows that [Meeks] has that ability to make the pass and get fastbreak layups,” Britt said.
The coaching staff showed the team film of UNC’s Elite Eight victory over Louisville in 2008, highlighting how Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington were able to attack the Cardinals’ defense by throwing over the top. By hurting Louisville in that manner, the Cardinals would be forced to choose between aggression up front and protection on the back end.
“[Williams] emphasized passing the ball over the press to get fastbreak layups, so that’s what we tried to do tonight,” Britt said.
While Meeks deserves headlines for his performance, Britt’s play alongside Paige was equally as important in his aggressiveness attacking the rim.
“I feel like that’s always been my game – being able to penetrate and create scoring opportunities for myself and my teammates,” Britt said.
Paige and Britt sliced through Louisville’s defense while Meeks threw over it, which, along with 20 points off turnovers, fueled UNC’s 54.2 percent shooting.
“Being able to handle that pressure is a key to beating Louisville and being able to do that allowed us a chance to win,” Paige said.