Tar Heels look to Meeks in the middle as they head to UAB

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 09:13 PM

North Carolina has been looking for a player to take control of the center position since the start of last season.

Freshman Kennedy Meeks finally took a step in that direction Sunday against Louisville, and looks to continue his progression today against Alabama-Birmingham (6 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

Meeks had 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists while committing just one turnover in the Tar Heels’ previous game, a 93-84 win over defending NCAA champion Louisville in the Hall of Fame Tipoff tournament final in Uncasville, Conn.

Meeks’ performance came after he recorded just one point in five minutes in the semifinal win over Richmond.

“I just couldn’t make shots Saturday (against Richmond),” Meeks said. “I couldn’t get any sleep Saturday night, and on Sunday I just woke up with a sense of urgency, a sense of confidence, and I just took that to the court.”

“Yesterday he was one of the worst players on the planet,” Williams said after the Louisville game. “Today he was unbelievable.”

The tournament win last weekend came after No. 16 UNC (4-1) suffered its second home non-conference loss in the Williams era against Belmont, which had the Tar Heels poised to tumble out of the top 25.

“Coming off the Belmont game, a win over the defending champs I think was the best thing that could happen to us as far as boosting our confidence,” Meeks said.

UNC had trouble finding a dependable center last season and finally scrapped the conventional setup in favor of a four-guard lineup. With guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald sitting out indefinitely because of NCAA eligibility issues (neither traveled to UAB), an inside presence is even more important for the team this season.

The Tar Heels will now travel to Birmingham for their first true road game. The Blazers (5-2) are coached by Jerod Haase, who spent 13 years on Williams’ staff (including nine years at UNC) before taking his first head coaching job at UAB last season.

The Blazers went 1-2 at the Charleston (S.C.) Classic last weekend, beating Nebraska by 13 but losing to New Mexico by 3 and to Temple by 21.

The Tar Heels’ only previous contest at UAB came when UNC won 60-55 in the 2010 NIT quarterfinals.

This is the second in a three-game series between the teams. UNC won 102-84 in the Smith Center last season and will host UAB again next season.