STANFORD — There are reasons why North Carolina was willing to play at Maples Pavilion on Monday night for the first time since Michael Jordan wore Tar Heel blue.
“Nobody does that,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said last weekend, when asked about a college basketball super power playing a non-conference road game at a campus facility.
The defending national champion and No. 9 Tar Heels may have done it in part because they figured they would beat a Stanford team coming off a losing season. That’s just what happened, with UNC posting a 96-72 victory — its 11th win over the Cardinal without a defeat and first here since 1983.
They may also have realized it would be a virtual neutral-site game, even nearly 2,800 miles from home, with their powder blue-clad fans matching the home crowd, which included the Stanford football team showing off The Axe.
Of course, coach Roy Williams agreed to the game primarily for one reason — Haase, his former player, assistant coach and long-time friend. “It’s a little bit of a father-son,” Williams said.
Their nearly quarter-century association provided Haase and the Cardinal no answer for Carolina guard Kenny Williams, who scored a career-high 20 points … in the first 10 minutes.
Senior Joel Berry, who was most outstanding player in the Final Four last season, scored 18 of his 29 points in the first half for the Tar Heels (3-0).
Reid Travis had 21 points to lead Stanford (3-2) and freshman guard Isaac White scored a season-best 20, including 13 in the first half. But Stanford sabotaged any thoughts of an upset by missing 11 of its first 18 free throws and turning the ball over 19 times.
The two teams now trek to Portland for the PK80 Invitational, a 16-team, two-bracket tournament honoring the 80th birthday of Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
Stanford, which has not beaten a Top-10 opponent since knocking off No. 7 Texas on Dec. 23, 2014, takes on No. 7 Florida on Thursday. UNC plays Portland in the first round.
Haase, who played for Williams at Kansas after transferring from Cal following his freshman season, will take his team back to Chapel Hill, N.C., next year. There are no current plans for the teams to meet beyond that.
Stanford led 11-6 after a layup by freshman Daejon Davis with 15:49 left, but Williams single-handedly put the Tar Heels in front to stay. He scored on a drive to the basket, then hit consecutive 3-pointers for a 14-11 lead.
When he hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game, the Tar Heels (3-0) were up 28-15, and he had eclipsed his previous best of 19 points for a full game.
Berry stuck a 3-pointer over Travis in the final minute of the half and the Heels led 50-36 at the break.
Berry sat out the Tar Heels’ opener while recovering from a broken hand he suffered last month when he punched a wall after losing a video game. He shot 1 for 11 in UNC’s next game, but found his rhythm against Stanford.
The Cardinal played its third straight game without starting guard Dorian Pickens and backup Marcus Sheffield, both nursing a foot injuries.