College Basketball: North Carolina 92, Arizona 64

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 27, 2007

By Andrew Bagnato

Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. — North Carolina stepped away from the Atlantic Coast Conference for a day and stepped all over Arizona.

Playing without Brandan Wright, their second-leading scorer and rebounder, the No. 4 Tar Heels routed the 17th-ranked Wildcats 92-64 Saturday, handing Lute Olson his worst home loss in 24 seasons as Arizona’s coach.

Wright and backup swingman Marcus Ginyard missed the game with stomach illnesses. But the Tar Heels (19-2) missed neither as they romped to their fourth straight victory.

“I think it is a big statement about how deep our team is, that we have guys on the bench who can start and we can still win a game like this,” said forward Deon Thompson, who replaced Wright and scored 14 points.

Thompson, like Wright, is a freshman. So is guard Ty Lawson, whose career-high 18 points led six Tar Heels in double figures.

“North Carolina is very, very, very good, and will get even better with the number of young players that they have,” Olson said.

North Carolina, which whipped the Wildcats 86-69 in Chapel Hill last season, ended Arizona’s 29-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents, the fourth-longest in the nation.

As the jubilant Tar Heels headed home, the Wildcats (14-6) tried to figure out what had hit them. Previously, Olson’s worst home defeat was a 12-point loss to Tennessee on Dec. 23, 1983, his second month on the job.

“I just told the guys, ‘This is a nightmare. Forget it,”‘ Olson said. “We’re not even going to look at the tapes.”

While they’re at it, the Wildcats might not want to look at the stat sheet, which showed that Arizona had as many turnovers (20) as field goals and went 1-for-23 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“We are absolutely ecstatic we got the win, but realistically we caught them on a day when the ball wouldn’t go in,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We feel as lucky as can be to beat a great program in a game like this when they didn’t shoot the ball well.”

In a one-game break from Pac-10 play, the Wildcats looked out of their league. Arizona turned the ball over four times on its first five possessions as the Tar Heels raced to a 15-6 lead. The game was tied for exactly 15 seconds, until North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington hit a 3-pointer.

“We wanted to get off to a good start,” Williams said.

The Tar Heels led the rest of the way. Arizona pulled to 25-21 before North Carolina went on a 14-2 run late in the first half on its way to a 43-25 halftime lead.

“Right before halftime, you could tell they were getting frustration,” Lawson said.

The rest of the game was garbage time, much to Olson’s regret. He had hoped the game would provide a national showcase for the Pac-10’s strength but it turned out to be a two-hour clinic by Carolina.

“I don’t remember anyone playing any better against us, ever,” Olson said. “But I don’t remember us playing worse, either.”

Chase Budinger scored 16 points, all in the second half, for Arizona, which lost for the fifth time in seven games.

It was the season’s lowest scoring total for Arizona, which averages 83.4 points per game, best in the Pac-10. But the Tar Heels held the Wildcats to one basket in the final 9:10 of the first half and without a field goal for nearly seven minutes in the second half.

“We caught Arizona on a day that the ball didn’t go in the basket for them,” Williams said. “I hope our defense had something to do with it.”

Wright and Ginyard became ill at the team’s hotel Friday, team spokesman Steve Kirschner said.

“Not having two important players made everybody else get off on a little bit of an edge,” Williams said.

Arizona also caught a bad break when leading scorer Marcus Williams sprained his right ankle midway through the first half.

Olson said Marcus Williams is expected to play against Washington State on Thursday night, when the Wildcats return to the relative safety of the Pac-10.

“North Carolina is out of our conference,” Arizona guard Jawann McClellan said. “And we won’t play another team like that in conference.”