Friday, December 21, 2007

UNC defense a work in progress

Coach Roy Williams says North Carolina needs to get better in all phases of its defense, but point guard Ty Lawson succinctly described the most glaring weakness Friday.

“When we let them dribble penetrate, we’ve got to help, and that leaves wide-open threes,” Lawson said.

North Carolina’s failure to stop dribblers is one of the main reasons opponents are shooting 34.7 percent from 3-point range against the Tar Heels. That ranks North Carolina in the bottom half of the ACC in that statistic.

Stopping penetration isn’t as easy as it sounds. According to Williams, North Carolina played a sagging man-to-man defense to prevent penetration in Dean Smith’s final years and throughout Bill Guthridge’s tenure.

But Williams said Smith and Guthridge weren’t happy with the results, and Williams wants to pressure the passing lanes to create turnovers. That leaves opponents with driving lanes. The key is learning to cut off those lanes more quickly.

“The way we play means that people are going to drive us,” Williams said, “so that’s the thing we’ve got to get better at.”

Despite his angry outburst after Nicholls State made 14 three-pointers in an 88-78 Tar Heel win on Wednesday, Williams is trying to stay patient. Though Thursday’s practice was among the most difficult Lawson has experienced in two seasons at North Carolina, nobody puked during the workout. (Williams had said his goal was to see how many players he could get to “throw up” during Thursday’s practice).

His real goal remains improving North Carolina’s defense enough for the Tar Heels to contend for a national title.

“I’ve never seen a bad defensive team in the Final Four,” he said. “They’ve got to understand that. I never have. Never.”

– Ken Tysiac