North Carolina coach Roy Williams admittedly took a gamble in having his coaching staff extensively scout videos of Louisville as a potential opponent for the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational. He now hopes unheralded Brigham Young will not cash in at the expense of the top-ranked Tar Heels as the teams meet Saturday.
The Cougars (5-0) spoiled the best-laid plans of tournament organizers by upsetting depleted and No. 6 Louisville 78-76 in the first semifinal Friday. Instead of devising ways to stop talented Louisville players like Derrick Caracter, Earl Clark and Jerry Smith, Williams and his staff must come up with plans to stop BYU’s inside-outside duo of Trent Plaisted and Jonathan Tavernari, who combined for 50 points.
“Our staff and everyone thought we would have a Louisville matchup,” Williams said. “BYU, they’re an up-tempo team, a really good basketball team.”
The Tar Heels coach did watch the first semifinal, making it a point afterward to seek out Tavernari, who made five 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 29 points, and said, “I hope we get a chance to play you, but that was an outstanding game you just played.”
Williams will get that chance as the Tar Heels (4-0) blew past Old Dominion 99-82 in the other semifinal. Sophomore point guard Ty Lawson scored a career-high 23 points and Tyler Hansbrough added 27 as North Carolina shot a stunning 70.5 percent (39-for-55) from the field, including 22 of 30 in the second half to break open a four-point game at halftime.
“I just got in a groove,” said Lawson, who scored 14 second-half points. “I got a lot of opportunities, and we started to make plays defensively.”
Hansbrough has averaged 26.7 points in his last three games after being held to 14 in North Carolina’s season-opening victory over Davidson on Nov. 14. The junior power forward also has been getting to the line consistently, sinking 38 of 49 free throws.
North Carolina has shot no worse than 46.2 percent in any of its four games and is averaging 97.0 points while shooting 55.3 percent overall and 42.9 percent from 3-point range.
BYU has little time to enjoy beating its highest-ranked opponent since defeating then-No. 2 Saint Joseph’s on Dec. 21, 1965. If the Cougars are going to have any chance in this game, they must get the same type of second-half production from Plaisted and Tavernari, who accounted for 31 of their team’s 37 second-half points.
“I just wanted them to play like I knew they could play,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “I wanted them to rebound, push it, attack, and see if we could take advantage of them while they were missing a guy or two.”
Even with the impressive victory, the Cougars appear to be taking the right mindset into this game. Rose stressed that “the most important thing is for us to make sure this isn’t the high point of the season.”
Tavernari, the 2007 Mountain West Conference freshman of the year, is averaging 16.2 points and showing more confidence from beyond the arc. He is 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) from 3-point range after making 29 of 78 as a reserve last season.
The 6-foot-11 Plaisted, who likely will be paired off against Hansbrough, is averaging 17.4 points and shooting 60.0 percent and coming off his first double-double after totaling 21 points and 12 rebounds.
North Carolina has won all four games between the teams by an average of 25.3 points. The Tar Heels routed the Cougars 86-50 in the Maui Invitational in the most recent meeting on Nov. 22, 2004.