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February 12, 2007

Scoring is secret to beating UNC

On one hand, it sounds silly it's so simple.

Ask opposing coaches what they must do to defeat fourth-ranked North Carolina and they inevitably say score points.

Well, duh … that's the object of the game, isn't it? Dig a little deeper and the true meaning of their advice becomes clear. Few teams in the country are good enough to beat the high-flying Tar Heels with their defense alone. Whereas there are some teams that control tempo, play tough defense and earn a good portion of their victories in this fashion against others.

A team can play its best defense against UNC and still lose by 10 or 15 points. If that same team shoots 30 percent from the field and turns the ball over 20 times, it might lose by 40 to the Tar Heels.

"Against Carolina, you have to score," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "They are so talented. They have so much offensive firepower. Every once in a while they'll have a bad night, but especially at home, they are going to score."

The Deacons saw the worst of it firsthand on Saturday, losing 104-67 at the Smith Center.

"We missed shots, turned it over a few times and missed the front end of one-and-ones," Prosser said. "They're converting at the other end. Those missed shots become outlet passes for them. Even missed free throws become outlet passes for them, and turnovers just fuel the fire."

Tuesday at 8 on regional television, one of the few teams to execute the formula of outscoring Carolina visits the Dean Dome. Virginia Tech (17-7, 7-3 in the ACC) defeated the Tar Heels 94-88 on Jan. 13. The Hokies led by 23 points at one time in the game.

"The two most significant factors up there were we turned it over so many times by not being strong enough with the ball or being careless with the ball, and the other thing is we let them get to the offensive boards," UNC coach Roy Williams said.

UNC also made a meager 55 percent of its free throws, going 16-of-29 and shot 44 percent from the field compared to 53 percent for the Hokies.

In spite of all this, Carolina nearly came back to win at the end. Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg concedes his home crowd helped his team hold on that day. He knows the Smith Center crowd will provide no aid or comfort.

"You've got to score some baskets early to give your guys some confidence," Greenberg said. "It's the first time we're going to be in Chapel Hill. It's going to be a new environment."

In their last two home games, the Tar Heels (22-3, 8-2) have scored 104 points against Miami and 105 against Wake Forest.

"In the first game, we made shots," Greenberg said. "We took care of the basketball until the very end. We defended with a good purpose until the very end.

"You've got to set your defense. If you don't do that, they hurt you in transition; they hurt you in second shots; they hurt you in penetration."

Keeping Carolina point guard Tywon Lawson out of the lane is getting more difficult with each game. Williams is spreading big men Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright a little further from the basket to lessen the congestion in the lane and make room for Lawson. By doing this, he gives Lawson the option of going all the way to the basket or dishing to one of his big guys if the defense collapses.

"[Lawson is] getting it to a certain level of understanding of what we want all the time," Williams said. "After he gets there, then I think you will see even more significant improvements because it becomes instinctive play. Right now, it's not instinctive play. But I think he's closer to getting it. We do want him to push the ball. There is no question. That is something he is understanding better.

"We do want him to penetrate under control, and that is something he is understanding better. The next huge step for him is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. His speed and quickness can be so disruptive on the defensive end of the floor, and when he gets that part of it, I think we'll really be in good shape."

Point guard Bobby Frasor has returned from a sore foot he aggravated in that game at Virginia Tech. He is beginning to play and look more like his old self. He's running the floor better and making plays on defense to get the break started.

The Tar Heels have actually played solid defense for much of the time since late December. Williams said a breakdown in their offense helped lead to their demise in Blacksburg, Va.

"We did not do a good job of taking care of the basketball up there," Williams said. "That led to easy baskets. We didn't box them out. That led to easy baskets. We took bad shots. That led to easier baskets. I don't think our defense was nearly the problem up there as our offense was."

And as opposing coaches will say, that is rare with the Tar Heels.



 

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