Tar Heels look to bounce back against Cavs
North Carolina was down by seven points with four seconds left at Duke on Wednesday when UNC point guard Marcus Paige called a timeout.
On the ensuing play, P.J. Hairston flew down the lane and threw a home a powerful one-handed dunk.
Though the result was no longer in doubt, the Tar Heels seemed to be sending a message that they will play the entire 40 minutes. It’s a fitting attitude to have with Virginia heading to the Smith Center today (noon, WRAL).
The Tar Heels lost the first meeting in Charlottesville because they had trouble closing out the game. In the conference opener for both teams, Virginia scored 10 straight points in the final three minutes for a 61-52 win.
“Give Virginia credit,” UNC coach Roy Williams said afterwards. “They did the things that they wanted to do, and they dominated both ends of the court in the second half.”
Both teams have had success since then — the Tar Heels (16-8, 6-5 ACC) had won six of seven before losses at No. 3 Miami and No. 2 Duke, while the Cavaliers (18-6, 8-3) have won seven of eight.
But those conference runs haven’t canceled out poor non-conference results, making today’s game important for both teams’ NCAA Tournament chances.
“Coach is always reminding us to stay humble,” Virginia sophomore Paul Jesperson said. “I think we need to go out there and play every game like we’re 0-0.”
The Cavaliers are known for their defense — they give up the second-fewest points in the country (52.3 per game), and UNC’s 52 points in the first meeting were the fourth-fewest the Tar Heels have scored in a game under Roy Williams.
UNC junior Reggie Bullock scored 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting in that game, but his teammates combined to shoot 28.6 percent including 1-of-11 from 3-point range. The Tar Heels actually led 36-28 early in the second half before they went scoreless for the next 5:30.
“We had a little bit of a run the first couple of minutes of the second half,” Williams said. “We had great movement at that time. We had four different guys at least score. After that, we didn’t get very good movement. We didn’t set the screens the way we wanted to set them, didn’t use them the way we wanted to use them.
“We missed some good shots. At the same time, our defense was breaking down on the other end.”
Virginia shot 52 percent in the second half against UNC, a sign of how well the Cavs offense has developed under defensive-minded coach Tony Bennett.
Behind Joe Harris, who is fourth in the ACC in scoring average (16.3) and scored a career-high 26 Tuesday against Virginia Tech, Virginia has scored at least 73 points in three straight games for the first time in three years.
Lately, the Cavs have used a four-guard lineup, making it more likely that Williams will give Hairston a second straight start. The sophomore guard replaced center Desmond Hubert in the lineup against Duke and became the first Tar Heel since John Henson in 2010 to lead the team in points (23), rebounds (eight) and assists (three).
With NBA teams on a break because of all-star weekend, former Tar Heels Tyler Zeller, Tyler Hansbrough, Kendall Marshall and John Henson are expected to attend today’s game.
Zeller, the 2012 ACC men’s basketball player of the year, will have his jersey officially honored during halftime. He also will be recognized before the game for winning the 2012 Patterson Award, which goes to the top male student-athlete at UNC, along with female winner Katelyn Falgowski, who was named the National Field Hockey Coaches Association player of the year in 2011.
Zeller, Hansbrough, Marshall and Henson will be introduced to the crowd during a timeout in the second half.