Heels look forward to another shot vs. Miami
North Carolina’s most recent game against Miami went so poorly that the Tar Heels scrapped their starting lineup and went with a new look.
Now No. 3-seeded UNC gets a chance to show No. 1 Miami how far it’s come when the Tar Heels play the Hurricanes in the ACC Tournament final today at the Greensboro Coliseum (1 p.m., ESPN/WRAL).
After the Tar Heels lost 87-61 at Miami on Feb. 9, UNC replaced center Desmond Hubert with guard P.J. Hairston, creating a smaller but more potent lineup. The third-seeded Tar Heels have gone 8-2 since then, with the only two losses coming against No. 2 Duke.
“Seems like it was so long ago, except my memory of looking at that clock and seeing the score as I walked off the court and the way I felt during the game is that we had no control over anything,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “(The) smaller lineup has helped us. We’re a better basketball team.
“Is it a world-beater? Is it the newest thing that ever happened, the best thing that ever happened? No, … but it was the best thing for this team. Whether it presents any different problems for them, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
Miami’s win over UNC was punctuated by a 2-on-0 fast break when Shane Larkin threw the ball off the backboard to a trailing Kenny Kadji, who dunked it in. The Tar Heels allowed 54.4 percent shooting, had more turnovers than assists and were outrebounded by nine in front of a crowd that included LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
“It was hard just getting beat like that,” UNC junior Leslie McDonald said. “It was hard seeing them throw it off the backboard and celebrating and stuff like that. No player wants to see that. It was hard. We always had that picture in our mind.
“Now we get to go back and play them again. For our team, we’re just ecstatic to get to play them again.”
The Hurricanes also beat the Tar Heels 68-59 at the Smith Center en route to its first ACC regular-season title since joining the league in 2004.
Now Miami (26-6) is in its first ACC Tournament final, while UNC will be making its league-record 32nd appearance.
The Hurricanes beat fifth-seeded N.C. State 81-71 in the first semifinal Saturday, and the Tar Heels knocked off No. 7 Maryland 79-76.
“We just came in with confidence in ourselves and a lot of confidence in our coaches and our gameplan, and we executed each night that we played,” Miami point guard Shane Larkin said. “Like I said before, we’re a hungry team, and we want more and more.
“We’re not satisfied with winning the regular-season, we want the ACC (Tournament title) and eventually we’re going to make the national championship game. We’re hungry and not going to settle for less, and hopefully we can get out there and get it done.”
UNC freshman Marcus Paige said Larkin, a first-team All-ACC selection, was the best point guard he played against this season. But he said the Tar Heels also are a more confident team since the Miami loss, and they won’t have the expectations that come with being the favorite.
“We’ve had some ups and downs this year, and we went through a period where we struggled and a lot of people kinda doubted us,” Paige said. “But the great thing about that is we stuck together as a team, and we finally started getting things clicking.
“So to get a chance to play Miami, who has beaten us pretty badly, and have a chance to cut down the nets, … it would just be awesome to see the season come full circle like that, going into the NCAA Tournament.”