The Tar Heels (12-5, 3-3 ACC) enjoyed their best shooting performance of the season, connecting on 34-of-60 field goal attempts for 57 percent.
A lot had to do with Tyler Hansbrough, who picked up his third double-double with game-highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds – the latter matching a career-high set against UC Santa Barbara. Battling against two equally sized combatants in the post, the Missouri freshman registered 20 or more points in his sixth outing of the last eight.
“We did shoot the ball well tonight,” Wes Miller said. “The way people collapse on Tyler – he’s such a force down low – when he gets it back out we're going to get some open looks and we need to knock them down.”
UNC’s assist to turnover ratio was one of the best of the year – 23 to 13. And much of that was thanks to Bobby Frasor’s nine passes and zero miscues. His long distance three just before halftime set the tone for the remainder of the game.
“Coach drew it up just like that,” Frasor said. “Wes was the second option but he was almost a decoy because I faked and then took the shot.
"That's big – we get momentum running into halftime. We came out into the second half the first couple minutes and really got on it.”
But just as important as his assist-to-turnover ratio and his big three-pointer, Frasor's defense on Hassan Adams carried the day. Assigned to cover Arizona's 6-4, 220-pound super-athletic star, Frasor kept him in check for an in-effective 12 points.
And Frasor did all this with a dislocated right hand ring finger suffered in practice a couple days ago.
"Needless to say I want him to dislocate the other finger," Roy Williams joked. "He’s going to have a dislocated finger every week now. ... But I thought his defense on Hassan Adams was Bobby’s best defensive game of the year."
Miller connected on four of five three-pointers en route to a 14-point performance and Reyshawn Terry added 13.
“[This win] was great for us,” David Noel said. “It gives us a confidence booster and it lets us know the caliber of ball we're capable of playing. We just have to make sure we do it every night.”
Also pleasing to fans was another installment of “The Danny Green Show,” featuring the Tar Heels’ human jumper cable, who has embraced his developing role as Carolina’s offensive spark off the bench. It was Green’s third straight game in double figures, but this was his best shooting effort – 5-for-6 FG and 3-for-4 3FG. Green also blocked two shots.
“That's my job: Come off the bench, give the team some energy and get the crowd into it,” he said.
A three from Green gave UNC its first lead of the game at the 8:59 mark of the opening half. After the Wildcats briefly took back the lead, Miller answered with his second from beyond the arc to put Carolina up 23-21. From there, the Tar Heels went on to close out the half making 10 of their final 14 shots from the floor to lead 39-31 at the break.
“That was a killer,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said of UNC’s run before halftime.
And Terry picked up the pace to start the second half with a three and a hard-fought basket that staked Carolina to a 10-point lead. His thunderous dunk with 9:29 remaining gave the Tar Heels their largest advantage, 69-49.
“The first twelve minutes of the second half is about as good as we’ve played all year,” Williams said. “I think it goes without saying we’re extremely happy.”
With the victory the Tar Heels evened the all-time series between the two teams at three apiece. It also provided UNC with a needed opportunity to get out on and run its fast break, while enjoying a comfortable win in front of 21,750 entertained fans.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats (13-7, 6-3 PAC-10) are enduring their worst start since 1986-87, when they went 10-7 to begin the year.
Forget about three losses in four games and an ever tightening ACC race, this was an intersectional, NCAA spectacular pitting two of the nation’s top programs. Twice in the four meetings between the two basketball powerhouses, Olson’s Wildcats had halted promising UNC runs at the national championship in 1988 and 1997.
Nothing like that was on the line today with both teams unranked in the AP poll. In fact, the two future Hall of Fame coaches entered the contest with 11 combined losses – the most ever shared in an Olson-Williams match-up. But it was a statement game from a historical perspective if nothing else, and one both teams needed as they prepare for February.
You could tell by the fire engine red hanky hanging out of Olson’s shiny silver suit this one meant something. Olson wiggled and squirmed all afternoon during first trip to Chapel Hill, falling for the fifth time in seven meetings versus Williams.
But in the media room the 71-year-old Arizona skipper with 33 years of Division I head coaching experience heaped unsolicited praise on Carolina Basketball.
“This place is first class,” Olson said. “Everything about this operation is what I think everyone in (college basketball) would love to have.”
Next up for Carolina is a road trip to Maryland (14-5, 4-2 ACC) – 91-85 losers to Temple on Saturday. The Tar Heels and Terps tip-off at 7 p.m. (ESPN).