PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — North Carolina coach Roy Williams walked into the postgame interview room and immediately rearranged the place cards that signified where Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson would sit.
Even after an easy win he was still tinkering.
Paige scored 21 points and had five assists, Jackson scored 12 points and after shaking up its starting lineup No. 5 North Carolina rode the strength of two big runs on the way to beating No. 22 UCLA 78-56 on Thursday night in the consolation round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
“They pay me a lot of money to make decisions,” Williams said. “I was ticked off, made some decisions and it worked out fine.”
Williams put Joel James, Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt in the starting lineup, electing to use Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto off the bench. And the Tar Heels (4-1) didn’t miss a beat, closing the first half on a 32-11 run and putting the game absolutely away with a 15-0 second-half run.
Paige had back-to-back 3-pointers to get that second run going, as North Carolina turned a nine-point edge into a 62-38 lead with 9:12 left.
“It’s easy now for us to see the difference in how we played tonight versus how we played (Wednesday in a loss to Butler),” Paige said. “The way everyone was into it, playing unselfish, flying around on defense, being active, that’s a more fun way to play. … And when you see the results as drastically different as they were, why wouldn’t you want to play that way?”
Norman Powell scored 15 points for UCLA (4-2), which dropped its second straight. Kevon Looney scored 11 points and Bryce Alford finished with 10 points for the Bruins.
UCLA finished with seven assists and 23 turnovers, its worst one-game ratio in that department since 1996, according to STATS.
“Our guard play wasn’t very good, our frontcourt wasn’t very good,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “And that’s not a very good combination.”
It was a matchup of storied programs. Between them, North Carolina and UCLA have 35 Final Four appearances and 16 national championships — though both saw their chances of returning from the Bahamas with a title vanish with losses in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
A shot at fifth place will have to do for North Carolina, which will try to leave Atlantis with a 2-1 mark after it plays either No. 18 Florida for fifth place on Friday night.
“Shot the ball better, didn’t turn it over, we rebounded it better and we caught UCLA on a night where their shots didn’t go in the basket,” Williams said.
Both teams led for exactly 9 minutes, 40 seconds in the first half, suggesting things were fairly even.
Not even close.
UCLA raced out to an 18-11 lead. After that, it was all Carolina.
The Tar Heels outscored UCLA by 21 points in the final 13 minutes of the half, and their reserves outscoring the Bruins’ bench 18-0. Theo Pinson slammed in an offensive rebound just before the buzzer to give North Carolina a 43-29 lead at halftime.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels are now 7-3 against UCLA. … The 22-point margin is North Carolina’s biggest win over a ranked opponent since beating then-No. 13 Michigan State 98-63 on Dec. 3, 2008.
UCLA: Something about playing North Carolina at an in-season tournament doesn’t work for the Bruins. Thursday’s game was the 17th anniversary of the Tar Heels’ 109-68 win over the Bruins at the Great Alaska Shootout. … UCLA came into the game shooting 39 percent from 3-point range this season. The Bruins were 1 for 14 from beyond the arc Thursday.
The Bruins’ comeback hopes took a hit just six seconds into the second half when Looney picked up his fourth foul and headed to the bench.
North Carolina had nine players score in the game’s first 13 minutes. UCLA had four players score in the entire first half, seven for the game.
North Carolina: Faces No. 18 Florida in fifth-place game Friday.
UCLA: Faces Alabama-Birmingham in seventh-place game Friday.
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