Saturday, December 1, 2012

UNC 102, UAB 84: The look back

CHAPEL HILL - It wasn't often pretty, especially on the defensive end, but North Carolina's 102-84 victory against UAB here on Saturday night left Tar Heels coach Roy Williams in a better mood than he was in earlier this week, after that ugly loss at Indiana.

Not that that's saying a lot. A look back at the Heels' tougher-than-the-score-makes-it-seem victory:

Three things to take away from UNC 102, UAB 84:

1. A small lineup might be the Tar Heels' best lineup.

I'm sure I'll be writing something more in-depth on this at some point soon, but you could make a case that UNC has been at its best this season when it has gone small. That was the case during the second-half rally against Butler in Maui, and again during the second half tonight against UAB. When the Heels went small tonight, they had Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston on the court at the same time. That created opportunities to run, and opportunities to create open looks on the perimeter.
2. Defense continues to be an issue for this team.

You'd think that the Heels would have learned a valuable lesson from that 83-59 loss at Indiana on Tuesday. And you'd think that that valuable lesson would have been this: Getting back on defense is important. Yet there the Heels were tonight, again failing to play transition defense. UNC's failure to get back made Williams irate. During a timeout with 13:16 to play, he ripped off his jacket and slammed his clipboard into the court, sending a marker flying. His team seemed to get the point after that but the defensive woes remain troubling, especially against a team of UAB's caliber.
3. The fifth starting spot remains in flux.

McDonald started tonight in the backcourt because Marcus Paige, the freshman point guard, sat out with a shoulder injury. But for the third time in eight games, UNC used a different frontcourt lineup. This time, Joel James started over Desmond Hubert and Brice Johnson. James and Johnson seem the most equipped to earn the starting position full time, but Williams doesn't seem all that comfortable with starting any of those three players. That's telling and indicative of where the Heels are at this point. They haven't received consistent production in the post from anyone, though Johnson played one of his best games and finished with 11 points and six rebounds in 14 minutes.
By the numbers:

14 - Second-chance points for UNC, which outscored UAB 14-2 in that category.

16 - Points for Hairston, who scored all of them during the second half.

20 - Turnovers for UNC, which led to 16 UAB points.

33 - Bench points for UNC, which outscored UAB 33-11 in that category.

37 - Minutes played for Bullock, a career-high for him in a non-overtime game.

46 - Times UNC has scored at least 100 points during Williams' head coaching tenure.

67 - UNC's second-half points, its most since scoring 67 in a half against Chaminade in 2008.

71.9 - UNC's second-half shooting percentage, its best shooting percentage in a half since 2008.
UNC player of the game:

Come on down, Leslie McDonald. He made the most of his first career start and finished with 24 points, a career high. He also had a career-high five assists.
Observations and notes:

--Both Jerod Haase and Bobby Frasor received loud ovations before the game began on Saturday. Haase became the UAB coach in March, after spending nine seasons on Williams' staff at North Carolina. Frasor is a former UNC point guard who now serves as the Blazers' director of basketball operations. Haase described coaching against Williams as "odd" and "awkward." Haase, Frasor, Williams and the rest of the Tar Heels' coaching staff spent several minutes together before the game began.

--Don't be surprised if we see more of the small lineup that Williams employed during the second half. During that stretch, he often had Strickland, McDonald, Bullock and Hairston on the court together. That gives UNC the ability to run like Williams prefers, and it also presents mismatches for opposing defenses, which might find it difficult to defend so many capable shooters at once. The Heels began to extend their lead by making perimeter shots, which in turn opened up driving lanes.

--Williams' outburst during a timeout with about 13 minutes to play might have been his most animated of the season. But at least his clipboard survived. Hairston said Williams broke a clipboard in half during the second half of the Heels' loss against Butler last week in the Maui Invitational. This time, the clipboard didn't break - but a marker flew off of it and rose about 30 feet in the air.

--Williams said he wasn't sure how long Paige might be out with a shoulder injury. Paige dressed out on Saturday, but he didn't participate in any of the pregame warm-ups. He suffered the injury during a non-contact part of practice on Friday. Paige will have some time to heal. The Heels don't play against until Saturday, when East Tennessee State visits the Smith Center.

--Williams described this game as "weird" and it was. For example: The Heels had 20 turnovers, but they also had assists on 28 of their 37 field goals. That's a good ratio. So the Heels were making good passes that led to good shots ... except when they were turning it over.

Quotable:

"If I say pick up the other team's point guard at the 10-second line, that's what I mean. It's an easy deal. If I tell my 3-year-old grandson to pick that cup up, my guess is he'll probably pick it up. And that's all the crap it is, just what I tell you to do. And besides, I was really hot. I needed to get my coat off." -Roy Williams, on his outburst during a timeout with about 13 minutes to play

"Basically told us to pick it up on defense - that we need to talk better. And when he slammed the clipboard, I saw the marker go in the air. So I kind of like looked up for five seconds and it was still going up ... the marker was in the air for at least five seconds." -P.J. Hairston, on his reaction to Williams' outburst

"He was just mad because we just can't let a player just come up the court with him not passing it to no other teammate and just pull up in our face. So that's one thing that he stresses in practice, that we shouldn't do. ... Dex just happened to catch the wrath, but it's everybody's part." -Reggie Bullock, on why Williams was upset

Up next:

After a pretty hectic early-season schedule, the Heels can take a bit of a breather - on the court, at least. They don't play again until next Saturday against East Tennessee State.

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No look back at the mammoth IU beatdown of UNC? No Butler recap either? At least some people watched those games.

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