UNC, Arkansas familiar foes in NCAA second round

Sunday's matchup will be the third time in the last decade that the Tar Heels and Razorbacks have played in the second round. UNC beat Arkansas in Jacksonville in 2015 and in Raleigh in 2008


  GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The North Carolina basketball team will face a familiar opponent Sunday in the second round of NCAA’s South Region tournament.

Two years ago in Jacksonville, the Tar Heels earned a trip to the Sweet 16 by beating Arkansas in the same round. It’s an 87-78 victory Theo Pinson and his teammates remember well and would like to repeat as they look to again use the Razorbacks as a stepping stone into the tournament’s second week.

“It was a high-level game,” Pinson said. “When we handled their pressure well, we got easy shots. If we do that (Sunday), we’ll have a good shot of beating them again.”

UNC, which was seeded No. 4, had its hands full with Arkansas the last time the teams met. It fell behind 10-4 before Nate Britt came off the bench to provide an unexpected lift by contributing eight points, a rebound, a steal and an assists in a four-minute stretch to get his team going.

The game was still tied at 50 as late as the 14-minute mark of the second half before Marcus Paige got hot from the perimeter to help the Tar Heels pull away.

“I remember Paige taking over in the second half,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said of the graduated UNC star who scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half. “I mean, he was like a one-man wrecking crew.

“But they had some other guys, the big guys, really dominating the glass as we went up and down the floor. They attacked us and attacked us pretty well at the basket. It was a game up and down the floor and that’s what I think we’ll see with this game (Sunday).”

Six current UNC players saw action in that game, totalling 91 minutes while accounting for 43 of their team’s 87 points. Other than Britt, who finished with 10 points, Justin Jackson was the only one in double figures with 16 points in 26 minutes.

Arkansas, on the other hand, has just three players back from that 2015 game. Only two -- big man Moses Kingsley and reserve guard Anton Beard -- played as many as 10 minutes. But even though most of the names and faces will be different, the style the Razorbacks will want to play should be a familiar one to the veteran Tar Heels, who are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA’s South Region this year.

“Arkansas still plays very similar to the way it played two years ago,” Britt said. “They apply a lot of pressure, trapping at random times on the court and picking up guys fullcourt. Most of our guys played in that game so we can take that experience going into this game.”

According to teammate Justin Jackson, the Razorbacks’ chaotic style should provide a favorable matchup since UNC has traditionally been most effective in uptempo games.

The Tar Heels’ recent history against Arkansas bears that out.

Not only did they beat the Razorbacks in 2015, they also eliminated them from the 2008 tournament, also in the second round, with a 108-77 victory in Raleigh. The last three times Arkansas has made the NCAA tournament, it has faced UNC in the second round.

“It’s fun to play against a team that goes that fast, because we’re able to get out just like they are” Jackson said. “Going against a team that plays fast, I think that will be good for us. But whether they play slow or play fast, we’ve got to come out and play as hard as they do.”

If recent history is any indication, the one thing the Tar Heels (28-7) can expect from the Razorbacks is that it’s going to play hard. Arkansas (26-9) advanced to Sunday's second round with a 77-71 victory against Seton Hall.

“I know it was a very aggressive game,” Williams said. “I know I felt going into the game exactly how I feel right now, that we’ve got to attack, attack, attack -- under control and not turn the ball over.”


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