After North Carolina underwent a brutal stretch over the past two weeks, a game against High Point would seem to be rather ordinary.
However, if the third-ranked Tar Heels beat the Panthers at home on Saturday, it will be a cause for celebration.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams is going for his 500th career win, which he would accomplish faster than any coach in history. Jerry Tarkanian got his milestone victory in his 20th season as a coach.
Williams is 499-125 in 19 years at Kansas and North Carolina, winning the 2005 national title and advancing to five Final Fours. His winning percentage (.800) is the highest among active coaches with 10 years of experience and is the fourth-highest in history.
After 15 years with the Jayhawks, Williams is back at his alma mater and has a chance for another title with his current squad.
The Tar Heels lost to Gonzaga on Nov. 22 before beating then-No. 22 Tennessee, then-No. 3 Ohio State and Kentucky over their last three games before taking a week off.
North Carolina concludes its five-game homestand with games against the Panthers, North Carolina-Asheville and Florida Atlantic. The Tar Heels are 8-0 under Williams when they have a week to prepare for a game. North Carolina has another week off following Saturday’s contest.
The Tar Heels’ starters hope to have earned back Williams’ trust. The coach benched his starters for sloppy play during the 75-63 win over Kentucky last Saturday, opting for his reserves instead.
“He pulled us off and showed us how important it was to get on the floor for loose balls,” freshman Wayne Ellington said of the second-half benching en masse. “It’s intense. He showed a little bit of fire.”
Tyler Hansbrough, a preseason All-American, scored just seven points on 2-for-10 shooting after combining for 48 points against Tennessee and Ohio State. The sophomore forward has been held under 10 points only three times in 48 career games, twice by Kentucky. The other was against Gonzaga at the NIT Season Tip-Off.
“They were big and they were throwing three or four guys at him,” Tar Heels point guard Bobby Frasor said. “It’s tough to score when you have that type of defense playing against you.”
North Carolina is expecting Hansbrough to rebound against High Point, which has won three straight but is playing its fourth game in the past week.
The two schools are located about 65 miles apart, but this is the first meeting between the teams in 59 years. The Tar Heels have won all seven games against High Point, all in the 1940s.
North Carolina is the highest ranked opponent the Panthers have ever faced. They’ve lost all seven previous games against ranked teams by an average of 36 points.
High Point, in its eighth year at the Division I level, lost to then-No. 25 Maryland 81-63 on Nov. 24 and is 0-2 on the road this season.
The Panthers are 2-23 all-time versus the ACC, with the last victory coming over Virginia Tech during the 1952-53 season.