“They played great today,” a wide-eyed Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. “Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t do a whole lot to slow them down, defensively or offensively… I think it’s safe to say they’re the best team we’ve played this year. I think that’s okay to say.”
Top-ranked North Carolina was simply too good for ninth-seeded Arkansas – the SEC’s third-best team in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense – to defend. The Tar Heels connected on a staggering 67.7 percent (44-of-65) of their field goal attempts. A 61.3 first-half shooting percentage (19-of-31) was topped only by a 73.5 percentage (25-of-34) in the final 20 minutes of the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
UNC quickly jumped out to a 35-11 lead with 8:59 remaining in the first half, en route to building a 51-26 margin at the break.
Arkansas – which fell behind by as many as 36 in the second half – shot 47.5 percent (28-of-59) for the game, although the Razorbacks only connected on 35.7 percent (10-of-28) of their field goals when the outcome was still in question during the opening 20 minutes. Sonny Weems struggled to regain his form from the Indiana victory on Friday night, missing ten more shots against the Tar Heels in posting 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting. Darian Townes added 15 points, while Patrick Beverly contributed 14.
“We were pretty doggone good – we really were,” said head coach Roy Williams, who is taking his 12th team – North Carolina’s 23rd trip – to the Sweet Sixteen next weekend in Charlotte, N.C.
Wayne Ellington led all scorers with 20 points, while Ty Lawson (19), Hansbrough (17), Deon Thompson (16) and Alex Stepheson (10) also scored in double-figures.
North Carolina tallied a season-best assist-to-turnover ratio (25-9) in Friday night’s win over Mount St. Mary’s, and then bested that statistic on Sunday, dishing out 28 assists to only seven turnovers. Lawson and backup point guard Quentin Thomas combined for 11 assists and no giveaways in helping the Tar Heels build their record away from the Smith Center this season to 20-0.
“We’ve had 87 practices and 12 run-and-shoot periods, so we have had them on the court 99 days, and every day I talk about moving yourself and moving the ball intelligently,” Williams said moments after he tied John Wooden for third-place all-time in NCAA Tournament wins (47). “And the more you move the ball, the more pressure you on the defense.”
North Carolina’s offensive production in recent weeks has been mind-numbing. The Tar Heels have shot 60 percent or better from the field in the second half of four of its last eight games. During the last 12 games, North Carolina has shot over 50 percent in 14 of the 24 possible halves.
The Tar Heels are now 7-1 in NCAA Tournament appearances in Raleigh, while owning a 23-1 record in the state of North Carolina. Their 34th win of the season tied the school record for most victories in a season (’03-’04, ’97-’98).
By North Carolina winning its first and second-round games by 39 and 31, respectively, it marked only the third time in the past 25 years that UNC won both of its first two NCAA games by 20 or more points. The only other teams to do it – 1993 and 2005 –
went on to win the national championship.
“I think the team overall is happy with our performance this weekend,” Marcus Ginyard said. “We can all get a little better and play a little harder and play a little smarter. We are going to head back to Chapel Hill and get fired up and excited and get focused again for another big-time weekend.”
Despite the fact that the Tar Heels are peaking at the perfect time in March, the Tar Heels recognize that these two games are now in the past, and have no bearing whatsoever on Thursday night’s matchup with Washington State at 7:27 p.m.
“I am a little old-fashioned, old school, whatever, but you have to play on game day and whoever we are playing, we have to play well,” Williams said. “Next weekend in Charlotte, they are not going to give us extra points because we played so well [in Raleigh].”