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Analysis: Gonzaga nailed by North Carolina on boards, leading to second straight loss

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 15, 2018, 11:11 p.m.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The combination of inattentive defense and rebounding issues knocked Gonzaga from the unbeaten ranks last Sunday.

The fourth-ranked Zags didn’t get either area fixed this week while mixing in practices and final exams. In fact, they regressed, and No. 12 North Carolina took full advantage with a 103-90 victory in front of a boisterous full house of 21,750 Saturday at the Dean Smith Center.

Gonzaga sent reporters scouring the media guide to figure out the previous last time it allowed an opponent to reach the century mark in regulation. The answer: Jan. 3, 2007, when Virginia beat the visiting Zags 108-87. Florida beat GU 111-105 last season at the PK80 in double overtime.

The Zags (9-2) suffered consecutive losses – that hasn’t happened since February 2014 – and this one offered some of the same breakdowns that surfaced against Tennessee in Phoenix. The Volunteers collected 16 offensive rebounds. North Carolina pulled down 14, making GU pay for nearly every one with a 27-0 edge in second-chance points. Ballgame.

“I mean, that’s an amazing stat,” UNC coach Roy Williams marveled.

Not so much for the Zags.

“We lost it on defensive rebounding,” said junior forward Rui Hachimura, who had 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but connected on just 5 of 14 shots. “We knew they were going to come (for rebounds), we didn’t do well. It was kind of similar (to Tennessee), the offensive rebounding and (the lack) of being aggressive every time.”

North Carolina (8-2) had its own issues on defense and committed 23 turnovers, leading to 29 GU points. It hardly mattered because the Zags could not make enough stops or grab enough defensive boards to put serious pressure on UNC after falling behind 24-12 midway through the first half.

The Tar Heels’ first and last two baskets in a 19-3 run came following offensive rebounds. Wing Cameron Johnson nailed two second-chance 3-pointers among his six triples. He also hit a 26-footer to beat the shot clock after one of GU’s better defensive efforts, hiking North Carolina’s lead to 92-75.

The Tar Heels shot 54.7 percent from the field. They hit 13 3s, including 6 of 7 attempts in the second half.

“Just be tougher,” Zags sophomore wing Zach Norvell Jr. said, when asked what needs to change defensively. “I feel like through stretches of those games we were really soft. We didn’t really put our best foot forward on the defensive end and we weren’t locked in mentally.”

North Carolina is an accomplished offensive rebounding team, and that was emphasized in Gonzaga’s scouting report. It didn’t translate to the court, where UNC’s foursome of 6-foot-8 Luke Maye, 6-9 Garrison Brooks and Johnson and 6-6 Nassir Little collected 12 offensive boards.

“We knew they crashed hard,” said Zags forward Brandon Clarke, who finished with 15 points, three boards, three steals and three blocks. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t have been ready for that. A lot of that is on me, so I need to work on that personally.”

Gonzaga’s offense kept it interesting, with the help of numerous careless turnovers by the Tar Heels. After a Johnson 3-pointer gave UNC a 68-52 lead, Williams crouched down on the sidelines, his face contorted as he screamed at his players to get a defensive stop. Seconds later, Josh Perkins drained a 3.

The Zags made 56 percent of their shot attempts in the second half and lost ground. They repeatedly closed the gap to eight or nine, but couldn’t overcome defensive breakdowns and a 42-21 deficit on the glass.

And they ran into an offensive buzzsaw.

“We’ve been slumping for nine games now,” said Johnson, who scored 25 points. “You’d think we’d break through one game, and this was it.”

The Zags return home for four nonconference games before the end of the calendar year.

“The way they were tonight, they were terrific, right up there with anybody we’ve played,” coach Mark Few said of the Tar Heels. “We haven’t been beaten like that on the glass all year. We certainly haven’t given up 50 percent (shooting) in both halves.

“They come at you and keep coming at you. … You get them to take shots you want them to take, and then they clean up on the glass. That’s one thing we’re going to have to get a lot better at, if we’re going to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”

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