Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off yet another marquee victory, the 14th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels continue a five-game homestand in the month of December, with Wednesday night's showdown with the Texas Longhorns at the Smith Center.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels have played at less than full strength this season, with a couple of key components missing from the lineup. Losses to both Belmont and UAB would normally be reason for concern in Chapel Hill, but UNC has assuaged any concerns this season with huge wins over powerhouses Louisville, Michigan State and most recently, Kentucky (82-77).
Rick Barnes' Longhorns will present another stiff challenge, as Texas has quietly opened the season with nine wins in its first 10 games. The lone loss came against BYU (86-82), but the Longhorns have won five straight games since, including an 85-53 rout of Texas State last weekend.
Not many teams can claim to have gotten the better of North Carolina in series play, but Texas actually holds a 5-3 series advantage thanks to last year's 85-67 romp in Austin. Texas has won four of the last five meetings.
Sophomore center Cameron Ridley is starting to establish himself as a formidable presence in the paint, as evidenced by his career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds last time out. Three other Longhorns joined Ridley in double- figure scoring, with Isaiah Taylor (15 pts), Javan Felix (13 pts) and Jonathan Holmes (11 pts) all making sizable contributions. Texas held Texas State to a mere .297 shooting effort in the game and forced the Bobcats into 17 turnovers.
The Longhorns have performed well at both ends of the court this season. Texas is shooting at a modest 44.8 percent clip this season, but is averaging an impressive 77.8 ppg nonetheless. A +10.4 scoring margin comes from tough defensive play that limits foes to just 68.4 ppg an under 40 percent shooting from the floor. In addition, the Longhorns boast of a +9.7 rebounding margin and are among the top rebounding teams in the nation at 43.8 caroms per contest. The scoring comes from a variety of sources, as Holmes headlines five players currently averaging double figures at 12.9 ppg. Taylor (11.7 ppg) is next in line and serves as the team's top distributor (3.8 apg). Demarcus Holland (11.0 ppg), Felix (10.8 ppg) and Ridley (10.3 ppg) provide plenty of support.
Marcus Paige once again led the way for North Carolina, as the sophomore guard netted a game-high 23 points, 21 of which came in the second half, as the Tar Heels knocked off Kentucky last weekend in Chapel Hill. James Michael McAdoo had a stellar game as well, posting 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. Fellow forward J.P. Tokoto added 15 points for UNC, which shot a strong 56.7 percent from the floor in the second half to earn the five-point win over the Wildcats.
Paige has really stood up and taken over as a team-leader, averaging a hefty 19.2 ppg, while also doling out a team-high 4.2 apg. The Tar Heels don't rely on the 3-pointer much with just 25 makes on the year from long distance, but 21 of those have come from Paige. McAdoo (13.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Brice Johnson (13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Tokoto (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) give the team depth up front. The team is still playing without stars P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, but that hasn't stopped the Tar Heels from posting solid numbers at both ends of the floor, including 78.0 ppg.