Roy Williams and Tubby Smith have recruited many talented players over the years. Harrison Barnes, though, is already in a category of his own for Williams and North Carolina.
The talented freshman looks to follow up a spectacular performance in his first game at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off when the eighth-ranked Tar Heels meet Smith and Minnesota in the tournament semifinals Friday night.
Barnes became the first freshman named to The Associated Press preseason All-America team since voting began before the 1986-87 season. He showed why when he made all four 3-point attempts and scored all of his 19 points in the first half of Thursday’s 107-63 win over Hofstra.
“His start was sensational for us. That was really the game,” Williams said.
The 6-foot-8 forward showed no effects of the pressure from having numerous NBA scouts watching him from behind the basket.
“I wouldn’t call it pressure, I call it having high expectations for myself,” Barnes said.
The Tar Heels (2-0) set records in the four-year tournament for total points, points in a half (first half, 58), field goals (40), field goals attempted (71) and assists (29).
“It was outrageous how well we shot it early,” Williams said. “It’s fun to score. I think guys enjoy playing that way, I enjoying coaching it and the fans like to see it. Everything looks so much better when the ball goes in the basket.”
No Tar Heel played more than 25 minutes, helping Williams get ready for his first matchup with Smith since the former Kentucky coach took over at Minnesota (3-0) before the 2007-08 season.
Smith beat Williams and Kansas twice at Kentucky before Williams went 3-1 against Smith’s Wildcats teams with the Tar Heels.
“It’s another game,” Smith said. “It is our fourth game of the year. It’s not going to make or break our season. This is just another opportunity to measure ourselves and test ourselves against a great program.”
The Golden Gophers are seeking their third straight 4-0 start after beating Western Kentucky 95-77 on Thursday. Ralph Sampson III scored 22 points, blocked seven shots and grabbed eight rebounds.
“I’ve been wanting to play UNC ever since I wanted to get into college,” said Sampson, whose father had several memorable games against the Tar Heels with Virginia.
Trevor Mbakwe added 18 points and 10 rebounds as every starter reached double figures. Minnesota scored 55 second-half points on 67.7 percent (21 of 31) shooting.
North Carolina appears to have the deeper team, with its reserves scoring 34 points while Minnesota’s managed 10.
“Everyone who came in off the bench gave us something positive,” Williams said. “It really boiled down to us making so many shots early.”
The winner will play West Virginia or Vanderbilt in Sunday’s championship.