Gonzaga was too good offensively both up high and down low, said the pundits. Their All-World big man could run the floor with any guard in America. Their rhythm was too fluid for UNC to keep up, and the Heels would be badly outmuscled under the basket. Carolina had thus far struggled to find an identity in the first quarter of the season, they promised.

It wasn’t long after many of those very pundits proffered their picks for Saturday night’s game against Carolina that the Tar Heels stormed over Gonzaga in what might stand as this season’s signature win for Roy Williams’s squad.

With sustained effort over forty minutes and flawless execution in nearly every phase of the game, the Tar Heels dismantled what many believe to be one of college basketball’s best teams in primetime, under the Dean Dome’s blue rafters. Ferocious on the boards and dead-eyed from long range, Carolina took an early lead that was never relinquished on their way to a hundred-point performance that is usually dropped on powder puffs, not a budding national power like Mark Few’s Gonzaga.

Notching a signature win this early in the season was vital for Carolina, who showed a speed, rhythm, and toughness that had theretofore been conspicuously absent this year. Until Saturday, these Tar Heels too often lacked any sense of cohesion, any semblance of toughness, and very, very little resolve. That all changed as they ran up and down on the Zags.

The key to victory here, as it so often is with a Roy Williams-coached team, was rebounding. Carolina doubled up Gonzaga’s total on the boards, outrebounding them forty-two to twenty-one, with many of those forty-two coming on the offensive glass and leading to too many second-chance points for the Zags to overcome.

Carolina got contributions from nearly everyone Saturday. Cam Johnson (who shot a stunning eight-for-twelve, including six-for-eight from three) and Kenny Williams were nearly flawless from long range. Seventh Woods had his breakout performance as a Tar Heel, notching a handful of key plays as the first half wound down. Coby White took the game over at points, treating Roy Williams Court like it was blacktop and successfully playing his fast-and-loose brand of point guard that sometimes lands him in hot water. Luke Maye and Garrison Brooks combined for twenty-five boards, outrebounding the whole of Gonzaga by themselves. And while Nassir Little’s stat line was wholly unimpressive (seven points, three rebounds over twenty-one minutes), the team was very obviously sparked when he was on the court.

Though they hardly played a perfect game (Carolina turned the ball over twenty-three times and played fast and loose even as the minutes waned in the second half), the Tar Heels proved that when they play smart, hard, and together, as Roy always preaches, they might just be one of the best teams in the country. 

Bring on Kentucky.