“Our guys feel a lot better now,” head coach Roy Williams said. “I asked them what it would have felt like if it had been the Nicholls State game in the locker room because they would have been worried sick about what was going to happen to them four days from now. We were much, much, much better [today].”
In undoubtedly their best performance of this young season, the Tar Heels capitalized on intense pressure defense to showcase a quick-strike transition game. North Carolina tallied 25 points off 16 forced turnovers, and posted a season-high 25 assists en route to a 57.1 percent shooting afternoon on 44-of-77 field goal attempts. UNC outrebounded their West Coast opponents 57 to 30.
UC Santa Barbara (11-2) entered Saturday’s contest on fire from deep, but the Gauchos were unable to find many open looks and missed 50 shots (28-of-78 for 35.9 percent, 10-of-26 on three-point attempts) in their first meeting with a top-ranked opponent in 19 years.
“I did think that we were more attentive on the defensive end,” Williams said. “We did a much better job of stopping the dribble penetration.”
That defensive effort led to plenty of lay ups for North Carolina, which created a better overall atmosphere for both players and fans alike in the Smith Center.
“We really came out with a lot more intensity, and just a lot more desire to be out there on the court,” junior wing Marcus Ginyard said. “Consequently, we had a lot more fun. We were getting after it, getting loose balls, getting steals and just getting to play an up-tempo game. We had a lot of fun out there today.”
Williams threatened to make his roster throw up in practice following a lackluster defensive showing against Nicholls State, and those comments apparently were received loud and clear. Hansbrough’s early dunk ignited the Smith Center, and the Tar Heels used that energy as fuel in outscoring the Gauchos 45-2 in fast break points. North Carolina notched eight steals in building a 52-32 halftime lead.
This 35-point victory was the result of a number of strong individual performances – Hansbrough scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Lawson added 15 points with six assists, four steals and only one turnover. Sophomore forward Deon Thompson contributed seven points and a career-high 12 rebounds, while sophomore guard Wayne Ellington took advantage of the transition game to add 17 of his own.
Ginyard also played his best game of the season in posting a career-high 17 points, marking the first time since his freshman season that he has scored in double figures in consecutive games (12 points in Wednesday’s victory over Nicholls State).
Possibly even more important for the Tar Heels was the Arlington, Va. native’s defensive pressure on sharpshooter Alex Harris (17 points on 6-of-18 shooting) – the UC Santa Barbara standout had been averaging 23.4 points per game.
“Just like any big-time player who is averaging over 20 points per game, you really just want to be there every time he catches the ball and make him uncomfortable,” Ginyard said. “You just try to get him out of his rhythm. Just make sure you box him out and don’t let him get easy baskets on the boards.”
Freshman tailback Greg Little made his first appearance on the hardwood after walking onto the basketball team two weeks ago, and drew a thunderous ovation from the crowd with a three-pointer that pushed North Carolina over the century mark for a 101-70 lead.
The Tar Heels will enjoy several days away from the Smith Center to enjoy the Christmas break before returning to action on Thursday night for a 7 p.m. tip against Nevada in Chapel Hill.