I would imagine that everyone outside of Tar Heel Nation collectively cringed at the manner in which UNC absolutely dismantled Arizona on their home court Saturday. Especially when you consider the following factors were true heading into the game.
- Second leading scorer Brandan Wright and top individual defender Marcus Ginyard were both sidelined with a stomach virus alongside Bobby Frasor who is still nursing an injured foot.
- The vaunted UNC depth was obviously reduced a bit and on top of that the Heels had to lean heavily on freshmen Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson, both of whom have not been thrust into primary scoring roles so far this season.
- UNC was facing a ranked team on the road which included experienced guards which has given the turnover happy Heels problems this season.
- The play of Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson has been erratic, particular when it comes to taking care of the basketball.
So what happened?
UNC dominated every aspect of the game. The defense was great holding the Cats only one three pointer and 33% shooting from the floor. The offense was clicking and UNC got some serious, step-up performances from Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson, and Alex Stepheson. Lawson had a sensational game with 18 points and 8 assists with Ellington dropping in 14 points. However the play of Thompson(14 pts, 6 rebs) and Stepheson(10 pts, 6 rebs) was perhaps the most important aspect of this game. With Wright out and Hansbrough blanketed these two rookies stepped up in a huge way. This obviously takes the quality of UNC depth to a new level. There has been a great deal made about the number of bodies UNC throws on the court as well as the skill level found after the starting five. The running comment for most of the season is that the second five for UNC could beat many of the teams in the ACC but until today we have not actually seen if that was true. Newsflash: It’s true.
Obviously there are a variety of implications from this win. In one way it exposes Arizona to perhaps not be the team people thought they were. The 28 point loss was the worst a Arizona team has suffered at home under Lute Olsen. On a larger scale, the assertion that the Pac 10 is the nation’s best conference takes a slight hit with this game though that ultimately remains to be seen. This win also illustrates just how deep UNC is and what the are capable of even if they lose as many as two key players. It has been said that UNC needs to prove they can win games on the strength of the cast surrounding Hansbrough/Wright such as the trio of Lawson, Ellington, and Reyshawn Terry. That was largely the case against Arizona which means the UNC offense is becoming more versatile with so many options defending them will be difficult.
By and large this was a great game for UNC to get under their belt. The confidence level for this team must be running extremely high now and with two lower caliber opponents in Miami and NC State on tap before the trip to Durham, the Heels can really get themselves on a serious roll. In fact a game like this can serve as a great starting point for a dominating streak heading through February and putting UNC in a ideal position to enter the NCAA Tournament as hot as any team in the country.