PK80 to test No, 9 Tar Heels’ big men (Nov 23, 2017)
North Carolina is looking for more out of its freshmen and hoping upperclassmen can keep things together during what could be a challenging weekend.
The ninth-ranked Tar Heels (3-0) are set to play three games in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore. The opener comes Thursday at the Moda Center against Portland (2-1) in the first meeting between the teams.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams has expressed concerns about the freshmen in the post, particularly after they were plagued with foul trouble during the team’s road opener Monday night at Stanford, where the Tar Heels began a West Coast swing.
“(As) you go through this, you feel good about being 3-0. I’ve seen some good things, but the freshmen have a long way to go,” Williams said. “Before the end of the year, they’ll need to get better or I won’t have gray hair because I won’t have any at all.”
Forward Garrison Brooks was scoreless in 12 minutes, while he, Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley all ended up with four fouls. Huffman provided a season-high eight points and five rebounds.
“Hopefully, the freshmen learned some things,” Williams said. “They didn’t have much success, but hopefully they learned some things.”
Inexperience in these situations could be a bigger issue for Portland.
Second-year Portland coach Terry Porter, a former NBA coach, said the PK80 Invitational provides a unique opportunity for his school.
“It has been really great for the program,” Porter said of the publicity around the tournament. “What a great experience. We’re excited for our program. That’s what it’s all about.”
Portland (2-1) holds lopsided victories against NAIA members Walla Walla and Oregon Tech, so the Pilots are about to encounter an upgrade in competition.
“You want a challenge, so we’re very excited about it,” Porter said. “You want that anxiety, you can’t wait. Once the ball goes up, the guys settle in. … Lock in to our principles, lean on each other and we’ll get through this.”
Portland is 7-64 all-time against Top 25 opponents, with nine consecutive losses against ranked teams.
Yet if North Carolina’s interior players have problems, it might be because of Pilots senior center Phillip Hartwich, who’s shooting 90 percent (9-for-10) from the field through three games. He’s also averaging 12 rebounds per game.
The Tar Heels might have sophomore guard Brandon Robinson available after he missed the past two games. He suffered a sprained shoulder in the opener.
The Tar Heels received big performances from a veteran backcourt in the 96-72 victory against Stanford. Senior guard Joel Berry, in his second game of the season after a preseason broken bone in his right hand, poured in 29 points and junior guard Kenny Williams had 20.
“It means a lot. It shows that the work is paying off,” said Kenny Williams, who bagged six 3-pointers in the first half.
North Carolina is 6-0 all-time in the state of Oregon, with all the games in Portland. The most-recent visit came in 1976.
This will mark the Tar Heels’ second game in a five-game stretch against a member of the West Coast Conference. North Carolina defeated Gonzaga in April’s national championship game.
The opponent for North Carolina and Portland on Friday will be either Arkansas or Oklahoma, one in a semifinal and the other in a consolation-bracket matchup.