LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jordan Nwora holds himself to a high standard, and a recent rough patch was hard to endure.
The junior wing ended his struggles Saturday, scoring 18 points to lead No. 11 Louisville over North Carolina 72-55.
The Cardinals (23-5, 14-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their second straight game and guaranteed they would stay in first place in the conference ahead of a big Monday night matchup at No. 8 Florida State (23-4, 13-3).
Louisville never had a big run in the first half but ended it on a strong note by making seven of its final nine shots. Lamarr Kimble’s jumper with 9 seconds left gave the Cardinals their biggest lead of the half at 36-23.
During Louisville’s recent two-game losing streak, Nwora — who entered Saturday as the league’s second-best scorer at 18.2 points per game — totaled seven points over those contests. He also lost his starting job for the game at Clemson, and he said he let the temporary demotion affect him a little too much.
“Ever since then, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of having energy,” he said.
Nwora had his best game in two weeks, going 7 of 15 from the field and 3 of 7 from beyond the 3-point line. He also added 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.
“It was really good to see him rebounding the way he did,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said.
Malik Williams added 17 points and nine rebounds in the win.
The Tar Heels (10-17, 3-13) lost their seventh straight. They also played short-handed as starting forward Garrison Brooks missed the game due to an illness and reserve Justin Pierce sat out with a sprained left ankle. Brooks, the team’s second-leading scorer, was a game-time decision, Williams said, due to his temperature.
That prompted coach Roy Williams to roll out a starting five — Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black and Christian Keeling — that had not played together at any point this season.
The missed games by Brooks and Pierce now mean the Tar Heels have a combined 83 missed games from their scholarship players this season, the most ever in the Williams era at Chapel Hill. Saturday’s starting line was the team’s ninth combination this season.
“I’m tired of it happening to us because it’s at least four or five games that we don’t know we won’t have one of our most important until right before game time,” an exasperated Williams said.
Anthony led the Tar Heels with 18 points, but the talented freshman made just 7 of 16 shots.
With Penn State and Duke losing in the past week, Louisville has a chance to re-enter the top 10 when the next AP poll comes out on Monday afternoon.
Williams Stepping Up
Malik Williams made his second start of the season — and his second in two games. He played a season-high 31 minutes, largely due to an ankle injury that limited Steven Enoch, and tallied a season high in points.
Mack said it’s not just about the offense for Williams. The team captain is a vocal leader on the court and a far cry from the player Mack first met when the post player made a recruiting trip to Xavier years ago.
Mack said he didn’t want to recruit Williams when he was Xavier’s coach because he saw a kid that was slumped in a chair and mumbling with his eyes barely open.
In Williams’ defense, he said he was exhausted from doing two recruiting trips in one day. Whatever the case, Mack is now glad to have him.
“He’s grown so much,” Mack said. “I love that kid, and I’m happy for him. He’s put in a lot of work, and his teammates respect the heck out of him.”
North Carolina: The undermanned Tar Heels were simply outmatched Saturday, and as a result, they set a record with 13 regular-season conference losses in a season
Louisville: The Cardinals have had their share of ups and downs in recent weeks, but on Saturday, they again had the look of a team that could make a deep run in March. The question remains whether they can maintain that form.
North Carolina hosts North Carolina State on Tuesday night. The Tar Heels last win came against the Wolfpack in Raleigh on Jan. 27.
Louisville plays at Florida State on Monday night.