Tar Heels have a quartet of Maui titles after beating Badgers
LAHAINA — So, North Carolina can play.
The Tar Heels came to the Valley Isle off a sluggish win at Hawaii, but The Associated Press’ fourth-ranked team left no doubt who was the class of this year’s Maui Jim Maui Invitational field with a 71-56 win over No. 16 Wisconsin in the championship game Wednesday night at the Lahaina Civic Center.
“We’re very happy to win the Maui Invitational. It’s a tournament that I love,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I always tell them I don’t leave the island until they let me sign a contract to come back in four years and they really like to get rid of me, so they usually let me sign the contract before I get out of here.”
The Tar Heels (7-0) won the Maui title for a fourth time — archrival Duke holds the record, with five — and North Carolina has won more games in the event than any other program, standing at 18-3 in seven appearances.
The Tar Heels broke their own tournament scoring-margin record, winning by 90 total points — eight more than the mark they set in 2008.
Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood, whose team lost to North Carolina by 32 in the semifinals, said he thought the Tar Heels were the best team in the country. Badgers coach Greg Gard couldn’t completely disagree.
“Having played them before, several times — coach Wil-liams may be able to answer this better — but this may be his best defensive team that we’ve played against,” Gard said. “I thought they were very solid, they handled actions, different things we tried to throw at them, different screening combinations, tried to isolate different guys, tried to lift their bigs out of the paint and attack that way.
“I thought they handled it as well as they’ve handled it in the number of years that we’ve played them. I don’t know about best team in the country. I think it’s early, I think a lot of things will change, but they’re obviously very good.”
Tournament MVP Joel Berry scored 22 points for North Carolina on 9-for-12 shooting from the field, and all-tournament pick Kennedy Meeks had a double-double at halftime on the way to finishing with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Meeks had a tournament-best 34 rebounds altogether.
The Badgers (4-2) were led by Vitto Brown’s 15 points. Ethan Happ had 13.
Berry was the primary defender on Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig, who was held to two points on 1-for-13 shooting — he had totaled 41 points over the first two days of the tournament.
“He was trying to do a great job on Bronson, which is really hard,” Williams said.
Meeks, meanwhile, added two blocks and two steals.
“Kennedy Meeks, to me, may have played the best ballgame since he’s been at North Carolina, and I’ve been really tough on Kennedy,” Williams said. “It has been well-deserved, but I have been really, really tough on him. I was really proud of the way he played tonight. On the defensive end, some of the steals that he came up with, the way he bothered people inside, I just thought he was good.”
The Tar Heels led just 11-8 midway through the first half, but had extended the lead to 29-20 at halftime after Justin Jackson was fouled on a 3-point shot with 2.4 seconds to go before the break and sank all three free throws.
North Carolina extended the advantage to 54-34 on a 3-pointer by Jackson with 8:35 remaining, and led by as many as 25.
“Now it’s the name on the front of the jersey, and I think the kids have bought into that, willing to make sacrifices,” Williams said. “When Justin Jackson made that, I guess, the only 3 he made tonight, everybody on our team was as happy as they could possibly be for him and our team.”
North Carolina, which lost in the national championship game last season to Villanova on a buzzer-beater, got 14 points from Isaiah Hicks. Jackson finished with 12.
“I really and truly honestly don’t think that we’re focused on that,” Meeks, a senior, said when asked if this team may be better than last season’s.
“I think this team is definitely more focused coming off a loss in the national championship game.”
The last two times the Tar Heels took the Maui crown, they won that season’s NCAA tournament as well — in 2004-05 and 2008-09.
Williams smiled when asked about parlaying Maui titles into national championships — then quickly turned stern as he mentioned leaving on time for his dinner reservations at Longhi’s.
“It remains to be seen,” he said of what the season has in store. “There’s probably, pick a number, 15 to 20 teams that have the potential to do it. You’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to get lucky and you’ve got to improve. If this is the best basketball that we play the entire season, then, no, we’re not good enough. But I feel we can improve. … I’m corny as all get out — we talk about getting better and better every single day.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.
Brown 5-6 1-2 15, Happ 6-12 1-3 13, Hayes 3-11 1-2 8, Showalter 2-3 0-0 5, Koenig 1-13 0-0 2, Van Vliet 0-1 0-0 0, Illikainen 0-0 0-0 0, Moesch 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 1-4 0-0 2, Ferris 0-0 0-0 0, Schlundt 0-0 0-0 0, Trice 2-2 3-3 8, Pritzl 1-1 0-0 3, Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Iverson 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-55 6-10 56.
NORTH CAROLINA (71)
Hicks 6-10 2-2 14, Meeks 6-9 3-3 15, Jackson 4-13 3-3 12, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Berry 9-12 2-2 22, Bradley 2-5 2-2 6, Rohlman 0-0 0-0 0, Rush 1-1 0-0 2, Britt 0-5 0-0 0, White 0-0 0-0 0, Woods 0-0 0-0 0, Coker 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 12-12 71.
Halftime–North Carolina 29-20. 3-Point Goals–Wisconsin 8-22 (Brown 4-5, Trice 1-1, Pritzl 1-1, Showalter 1-2, Hayes 1-7, Van Vliet 0-1, Koenig 0-5), North Carolina 3-12 (Berry 2-3, Jackson 1-6, Britt 0-1, Williams 0-1, Robinson 0-1). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Wisconsin 25 (Iverson, Happ 6), North Carolina 34 (Meeks 16). Assists–Wisconsin 12 (Happ 4), North Carolina 10 (Berry 3). Total Fouls–Wisconsin 12, North Carolina 13. A–2,400 (2,400).
Maui Invitational Champions