After a slow start that saw them down by 11 in the first half, No. 11 North Carolina rallied to run past No. 22 UCLA, 89-76, on Saturday at the Barclays Center.
Using another huge effort from senior big man Brice Johnson, the Tar Heels soundly outplayed UCLA on the interior, even without starting junior Kennedy Meeks. Johnson finished with 27 points and nine rebounds and Isaiah Hicks added 12 points off the bench as North Carolina had UCLA big man Thomas Welsh in foul trouble for much of the game.
Perimeter and transition defense was also problematic for UCLA as the Tar Heels were able to run at will in the second half. Joel Berry finished with 17 points on the afternoon while Marcus Paige added 10 points. North Carolina shot 52 percent from the field on the afternoon as they slowly wore down the UCLA defense.
The Bruins had 23 points from Isaac Hamilton, but the UCLA offense wasn’t strong enough to match the Tar Heels. Bryce Alford contributed 15 points, but he was only 4-for-14 from the field while Tony Parker had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Johnson continued his strong week for North Carolina. After scoring an initial career high of 25 against Tulane earlier this week, Johnson had 27 points and made 11 straight field goals against a front line that featured two McDonald’s All-Americans. With Johnson playing like that, it takes North Carolina to another level, even if they struggle to 4-for-19 3-point shooting like they did on Saturday.