No. 14 North Carolina and No. 17 Texas tend to put lots of emphasis on some of their high-scoring abilities.
But defense is bound to be coveted when the teams meet in the championship game of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday in Asheville, N.C.
“We really challenged the guys (defensively),” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “We’ve got capable guys. Probably the biggest area we need to improve on defense is fouling less. … But the aggressiveness has to be there.”
Texas (3-0) is aiming for its first Maui Invitational title in five all-time appearances in the event. The best finish for the Longhorns had been a pair of third-place finishes, so that spot already has improved.
Texas rolled past Indiana 66-44 in Tuesday’s semifinal, doing so with just three players scoring in double figures after six Longhorns reached that level a day earlier in a two-point victory against Davidson.
North Carolina (3-0) secured a spot in the final by edging Stanford 67-63 in the second semifinal. The Tar Heels have trailed in the second half in two of their games this season.
“I feel like we’re battle-tested going through the things we went through last year,” North Carolina guard Leaky Black said. “We feel like we’ve got some guys willing to learn and to fight when the going gets tough.”
Showing the ability to convert in the clutch was an encouraging development after the Tar Heels lost numerous games determined in the final seconds last season.
“The game was just decided on one or two plays,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
North Carolina is going for its fifth Maui Invitational title with its seventh appearance in the tournament final.
The Texas and North Carolina offenses could be cranked up again for the tournament final. The Longhorns had averaged 84.5 points per game in their first two outings of the season, while the Tar Heels also prefer a rapid pace.
Texas held Indiana to 23.9-percent shooting from the field. The Longhorns dealt with foul trouble in the Indiana game.
“We had a lot of guys step up and play with a lot of togetherness and aggressiveness,” Smart said.
The Longhorns received a boost from Brock Cunningham’s 11 rebounds.
“He impacts winning,” Smart said. “He makes winning plays.”
Texas outrebounded Indiana by 48-29. North Carolina exceeded that margin with a 43-23 edge — led by nine from Garrison Brooks — on the boards against Stanford.
“You have to try to take your strengths and make that an important factor in the game,” Williams said.
North Carolina’s rebounding helped overcome 24 turnovers in the Stanford game. That was the most turnovers for a Tar Heels team since the same number in a 2012 NCAA Tournament victory against Ohio University.
Texas freshman forward Greg Brown is a touted first-year player on the college season. He’ll be matched by North Carolina’s core of freshman standouts.
For Brown, it might be a matter of finding better rhythm.
“Learning all the little things that go into winning,” Smart said of Brown.
The tournament was relocated to snowy Asheville, a western North Carolina mountain city instead of its normal location in Hawaii because of the coronavirus pandemic.
–Field Level Media