|Louisville seeks signature win vs. No. 14 UNC|
LOUISVILLE -- Louisville hosts No. 14 North Carolina on Saturday night in what is likely the Cardinals' biggest home game of the season.
The Tar Heels team that Louisville (18-8, 8-5 ACC) will face Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) is a far cry from the one that ended January with a 5-5 ACC league record. Since then, North Carolina has a 31-point win over Pittsburgh, a 17-point win over Notre Dame, a victory at North Carolina State and a win over rival Duke.
The biggest difference for Roy Williams? Defense.
"I'm still trying to convince my team we've got to be able to guard people a little bit better," Williams said Friday. "They are sort of making me think that they think they can outscore people. I know that's not true when you want to win the bigger games."
The Tar Heels (20-7, 9-5) gave up 42 3-pointers during a three-game losing streak back in January. Since then, they've been much better at forcing teams away from the 3-point line.
"I think the biggest thing is us not giving up so many threes," North Carolina senior guard Joel Berry said. "It's hard to play with teams when they're knocking down 10 to 15 3-pointers per game. I think we've done a great job of just making sure we get out to the 3-point line and guarding it. I honestly think that's the reason."
Louisville isn't a great 3-point threat. The Cardinals are 11th in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (35.4) and 3s made per game (7.6). But the Cardinals will regain the service of wing Deng Adel, the team's leading scorer, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury.
"As long as he doesn't have any setbacks we should be good to go," Louisville interim coach David Padgett said.
Padgett said Adel started with individual workouts and has since transitioned to more practice in the last couple days.
With Adel, the Cardinals are one of the top teams in the league in terms of scoring and one of the few teams in the country who can stick with North Carolina in terms of rebounding. Padgett said that even though the Tar Heels have been using a smaller lineup than in previous years, they still rebound extremely well.
"They just rebound so well from every position, and they pursue the ball on the offensive glass," Padgett said.
Padgett explained his team will have to be smart about when to crash the glass because UNC is so good at transition offense.
"You've really got to be aware of, 'OK, if I'm one of the guards and I don't take the shot, I have to get back,'" Padgett said. "And if I'm a (power forward or center), and I have a legit chance to get a rebound, then yes by all means. But if it's one of those in-betweens and you're caught in the high post and you probably can't get to the backboard, you need to err on the side of caution and you need to get back."
Saturday's showdown is a key matchup for the Cardinals. They are still searching for a current Top 25 win and have just a pair of the Quadrant 1 wins that the NCAA Selection Committee wants to see. A win over the Tar Heels would likely assure the Cardinals an at-large bid.
The atmosphere in the KFC Yum! Center is expected to be electric. Louisville fans are planning a "White Out," with every fan in the arena expected to wear white.
If things go poorly for the Tar Heels, it may force Williams to end his timeout streak. He hasn't called a timeout in more than 140 minutes of game action, last using one in the first half of the Pittsburgh game on Feb. 3.
As crucial as Saturday's game is for Louisville, don't expect Padgett to join Rick Pitino's tradition of wearing a white suit.
Padgett opened his pregame press conference Friday by telling reporters: "I know this question is on everyone's minds so I will go ahead and address it. I will not be wearing a white suit tomorrow."
The coach joked that at 6-foot-11, he can't just "go to Macy's and grab a suit off the rack."