North Carolina is trying to capitalize on an extended homestand, and would prefer to enter a week off with some momentum.
Hosting another non-conference opponent would appear to give them a strong opportunity to do both.
The No. 4 Tar Heels look to extend their non-conference winning streak at Chapel Hill to 52 games when they face Long Beach State on Saturday night.
North Carolina (7-2) has split its last four games after a 5-0 start moved it to the top spot in the AP poll. Both of the Tar Heels’ defeats came on the road, including last Saturday’s 73-72 loss at top-ranked Kentucky.
They rebounded Tuesday by dominating Evansville 97-48, holding the Aces to a 25.8 percent shooting while outrebounding them 62-30 to open this nine-game homestand.
“We talked about we have a stretch here where we play a lot of games at home,” coach Roy Williams said. “We’ve got to try to get better. … Let’s use this to help our team.”
After hosting Long Beach State (4-4), UNC’s longest homestand of the season will break for exams before resuming against Appalachian State next Saturday.
The Tar Heels have won 51 straight at the Dean Smith Center against teams outside the ACC, outscoring them by an average of 25.1 points.
That stretch includes a 96-91 win over the 49ers in the first-ever meeting Dec. 11, 2010. Harrison Barnes had 19 points and 10 rebounds while North Carolina connected on 56.3 percent from the floor, sinking 11 of 23 from 3-point range.
The sophomore forward, who had 17 points versus Evansville, leads the Tar Heels with an average of 17.2 points while hitting 12 of 26 from beyond the arc. He’s made 7 of 11 3-pointers over the past three games.
Long Beach State is facing a ranked team for the fourth time this season, and second this week.
They’ll also face No. 8 Xavier later this month, and coach Dan Monson isn’t just using this tough schedule to get his team experience.
“We’ve had the No. 1 strength of schedule on Jan. 1 the last two years, and this will probably be No. 3,” he said. “Our goal this year is to not just go play in these games, but win and compete.
“We’re not happy to just be in here.”
Long Beach State boasts a balanced offense that includes four players scoring in double figures.
Casper Ware leads the group with 17.0 points per game, but that’s partly due to his 24.7 average over the first three games of the season. The senior guard is averaging 12.4 points over the last five contests after scoring 16 on 3 of 11 from the floor against the Jayhawks.
Ware, though, had 22 points and 10 assists against the Tar Heels last season.
T.J. Robinson scored a career-best 31 points in that meeting, and the senior forward is averaging 17.2 points with 10.8 rebounds over the past five games.