Heels get another chance vs. Hurricanes
Sophomore James Michael McAdoo is coming off back-to-back 20-point games for the first time in his career. P.J. Hairston has heated up from the perimeter. Desmond Hubert has solidified his spot in the starting rotation. Leslie McDonald is back from a knee injury.
North Carolina has improved in a number of areas since suffering its only home loss of the season Jan. 10 against Miami. Now the Tar Heels get a chance to see if that’s enough to overcome the conference-leading Hurricanes, who didn’t have center Reggie Johnson when they won at the Smith Center.
After six wins in seven games, the Tar Heels get another crack at Miami today, this time in Coral Gables (2 p.m., ESPN).
“They’re better, and I hope we’re a heck of a lot better than when we played them last time,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Miami (18-3, 9-0 ACC) wasn’t ranked when it first played UNC but has since risen to No. 8, the highest ranking in program history. The Hurricanes also are the first school other than Duke or UNC to start 7-0 in the ACC since Virginia did it in 1981.
Miami hasn’t lost a game at full strength — Durand Scott, the ACC’s active leader in career points, missed the team’s first loss at Florida-Golf Coast and Johnson, whose 9.1 rebounds a game would be third in the ACC if he hadn’t broken his thumb, missed the other two defeats.
But UNC (16-6, 6-3) also has gotten better as complementary pieces have come along.
Hairston, who scored only five points in 26 minutes against Miami, has put up 59 points in his last 58 minutes, making 14 of 21 from behind the arc.
Hubert also has become a permanent starter, winning the coaches defensive player of the game award three times in the past five contests.
“Desmond is just so much more effective on the defensive end of the floor — rebounding, talking, making our whole team defense a heck of a lot better,” Williams said.
Even former walk-on Jackson Simmons has become a contributor since the Miami game. After playing a total of 58 minutes in UNC’s first 15 games, a span that ended with the loss to the Hurricanes, the sophomore forward has played 97 minutes in the past seven games by bringing offensive rebounding, a mid-range jumper and steady play.
The Tar Heels will need all those pieces to overcome a difficult second half of the conference schedule. Besides playing five of the past nine games on the road, UNC has seven games against the other six teams that are .500 or better in conference play.
“We haven’t played as well as I wanted us to play, there’s no question about that,” Williams said. “But I said in the preseason I thought our team would get better and better as the season went along, and I think we are better.
“Now the only flipside to that is the second half of the season we probably have the most difficult schedule of anyone else in the league. So we may get better and it may not show up as much.”
New uniform design
UNC will wear an alternate uniform on a one-time basis today. The jersey will feature the “NC” logo centered on the chest area — similar to the uniforms worn during the 1999-2000 season — and the logo, numbers and lettering will be navy blue with white piping.
The Tar Heels have worn special jerseys a handful of times under Williams. In 2005, UNC wore a throwback based on the uniforms of the 1980s. During the 2009-10 season, which celebrated 100 years of basketball at UNC, the Tar Heels wore uniforms based on the ’57 championship season.
The team also wore special jerseys twice during the 2011-12 season — a blue camouflage design for the Carrier Classic and a silver design on senior night.