North Carolina began the season as the country's No. 1 in part because Marcus Paige was healthy, and its trip to his home state of Iowa over the weekend might have gone much better if he wasn't injured.
Justin Jackson is doing his best to help the now ninth-ranked Tar Heels get by until Paige returns.
Paige suffered a broken hand in practice Nov. 3 - one day after the Tar Heels (4-1) were voted as the nation's top-ranked team - and was given a range of three to four weeks to make his season debut.
North Carolina scheduled Saturday's visit to Northern Iowa near Paige's hometown specially for him, but it blew a nine-point halftime lead and suffered a 71-67 upset.
It's unclear when Paige will return, but Jackson has heeded the advice of coach Roy Williams to be more assertive lately with the senior guard out.
Jackson scored a career-high 25 points in the defeat, and he finished with 21 and 13 rebounds Monday to help North Carolina beat Northwestern 80-69 in the semifinals at the Sprint Center.
The sophomore, who didn't have more than seven boards in any of his previous 42 career games, has hit 17 of 30 from the field over his last two. Jackson shot 37.5 percent, missed all nine of his 3-point attempts, went 2 for 8 from the free-throw line and scored a combined 20 points over his first three.
''I told him, `If you're my biggest worry, we're in a great situation,''' Williams said. ''We've talked about aggressiveness a lot with him.''
North Carolina finished with only nine turnovers after having 12 in each of their previous two.
''I was ticked off,'' Williams said about the loss to Northern Iowa. ''I wasn't going to treat them with kid gloves. We screwed it up.
''Needless to say, we feel better than we did Saturday.''
Kansas State hasn't had much to feel bad about. It has won all four of its game by double digits after routing Missouri 66-42 earlier Monday.
The Wildcats held the Tigers to 30.9 percent from the field, giving their opponents a combined 37.8 mark. They've also forced an average of 15.8 turnovers.
Leading scorer Justin Edwards had 13 points and freshman forward Dean Wade finished with 14 and 13 rebounds. Coach Bruce Weber lauded Wade, who is averaging 13.5 points, for picking up the college game quickly.
''It's a big transition from St. John (Kansas) to here,'' Weber said. "He's such a good young man. He wants to learn and do well. In a way, he's a little naive and I just hope we can keep him that way for a little while.''
All Weber has to do to humble Wade is show him his shooting numbers. Wade made only 3 of 11 from the field in 30 minutes as Kansas State shot 36.8 percent as a team.
The Wildcats have hit just 42.4 percent on the season and 26.9 percent from 3-point range. North Carolina is holding opponents to 39.6 percent shooting.