Kennedy Meeks had 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, Joel Berry II scored 22 points and #4 North Carolina ran away from #14 Wisconsin, 71-56, Wednesday night to win its fourth Maui Invitational title.
The long, athletic Tar Heels (7-0) ran roughshod through the deep Maui field, so good in the semifinals Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood called them the “best team in the country.”
North Carolina, the national runner-up a year ago, looked the part again in the title game, dominating Wisconsin (4-2) at both ends of the court.
“We have a chip on our shoulder and we’re going to continue to get better as the year goes on,” Berry said. “We’re playing good right now, but I think we can still play better.”
The Tar Heels held the Badgers to 38% shooting and harassed the Badgers’ leading scorer, Bronson Koenig, into a 1-for-13 night.
After their previous three Maui Invitational titles, the Tar Heels went on to win two national championships and reach the Final Four the other time.
“I’ve never seen a national championship on the day before Thanksgiving,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “It’s usually a Monday night in April.”
Isaiah Hicks had 15 points for North Carolina and Justin Jackson added 12.
Vitto Brown led Wisconsin with 15 points and Ethan Happ had 13.
“We’ll definitely have a lot to learn from this when we go back and watch the film,” Brown said. “There’s no better test this early in the season.”
North Carolina rolled over Chaminade and Oklahoma State in the first two Maui rounds, winning by a combined 75 points and looking like a national title contender.
Wisconsin reached the title game by pulling away from Tennessee and dominating Georgetown on the glass.
The Tar Heels looked like they were headed for another runaway victory at the start of the title game, the Badgers looking like they had been in the sun too long on Kaanapali Beach.
Unable to handle North Carolina’s length on defense or hit shots when they were open, Wisconsin missed its first 11 shots and needed nearly 7 1/2 minutes to score.
“It’s tough when you don’t hit shots,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said.
The Badgers settled down after their jittery start and cut the lead to four before North Carolina stretched it to 29-20 by halftime.
Berry was the catalyst for North Carolina in the first half and continued to be in the second, scoring and orchestrating the Tar Heels offense.
The Badgers next play on Sunday where they host Prairie View A&M at 1:00 pm (CT). The game will be on ESPN3.