North Carolina cannot afford to let Arkansas get its motor running

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Arkansas will try to run North Carolina out of the gym — and if the Tar Heels are to avoid another March disappointment, they have to keep Bobby Portis & Co. in check.

Portis leads the Razorbacks in points, rebounds and blocks and is the SEC Player of the Year. He had 15 points and 13 boards in the Razorbacks’ too-close-for-comfort 56-53 victory against Wofford on Thursday.

Against the Terriers, Arkansas’ Michael Qualls hit 8 of 9 shots and posted a game-high 20 points. He has scored at least 15 points in each of his past seven games but no other Razborback scored in double figures.

(5) Arkansas vs. (4) North Carolina
WEST REGIONAL
8:40 p.m. ET Saturday | TNT

It goes without saying that North Carolina will need to control the tempo of the game. The Tar Heels cannot run with Arkansas (not that many teams can). That said, UNC cannot afford to be as labored as it was against Harvard. The Crimson were averaging 13 fewer points than North Carolina and yet managed to hang around long enough to lose 67-65 on Thursday.

Arkansas and UNC entered the tournament virtually deadlocked offensively, averaging 77.9 and 78.0 points per game, respectively. If the Razorbacks get rolling in transition — Arkansas ranks seventh nationally in turnover margin; the Tar Heels are No. 198 — it will be a long night for Roy Williams.

North Carolina will need to play tough defensively but not get too “handsy;” Arkansas shoots free throws at a 72 percent clip. If it comes down to the charity stripe, Arkansas again holds the advantage.

A lot will be asked of forwards Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks — two of the top glass cleaners in the ACC — and the hopes of Tar Heel Nation may very well rest on their shoulders.

This is a classic third-round game: A good team is going home. For the winner, a berth in the Sweet Sixteen awaits. If it’s to be North Carolina, it must play smart defensively, rebound as well as it has this season (seventh nationally) and control the pace of play as much as possible.

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