North Carolina veterans Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock spoke with the media Thursday afternoon in the Sprint Center in Kansas City prior to UNC's open practice session.
The Tar Heels, seeded No. 8 in the South Region, return to action Friday night at 7:20 pm in a second round matchup with ninth-seeded Villanova.
Dexter, y'all had some struggles this year getting things going. What has it been about the last couple weeks where you seem to put things a little bit more together?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I would say just confidence and our experience, just growing as a team.
I think we all, you know, have an understanding of what we supposed to do on the floor.
The freshmen, them having more experience game after game, them having more confidence, like I said. You know, we're just playing well together.
Do you feel right now you're playing as well as you've played all year?
REGGIE BULLOCK: We're playing our best basketball right now as a team. Everybody have confidence in each other. We've grown as a team by every game. We just listening and doing the things that coach want us to do. So we're growing as a team right now. We're playing our best basketball.
DEXTER STRICKLAND: The same thing. I think now we are playing at our potential. I think we can do better, though. I think the losses against Duke made us better. The second loss against Duke also made us better. The loss to Miami I think was going to motivate everybody on our team to even play harder.
We're just ready to play tomorrow night.
Reggie, you really did a much better job on the boards against Miami than you did against Maryland the day before. What did you do to offset their size advantage? What do you have to do tomorrow?
REGGIE BULLOCK: Not get away from the things we've been doing to win games. Stick to continuing to hit the boards, sharing the ball well, and just playing tremendous defense on the defensive end.
They got some big guys, so we have to rebound as a team and get out in transition and run.
Villanova has had some trouble defending the three‑pointer. That's something you do well. Can we expect a lot of three‑pointers from you guys?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I think you can. With us having a small lineup, it allows the floor to be more spaced out, allowing myself, Marcus, to drop to the basket, find our great shooters who are Reggie, Leslie, and P.J. I think we're going to do a great job as far as shooting and attacking on offense.
Reggie, it sounded like you take that as a challenge when you're playing a team with a lot of big guys, rebounding. Is that something you relish?
REGGIE BULLOCK: Every day in practice coach always tell us at the backboards with us going small, sticking P.J. at the 4. I know it's tough for us to get a lot of rebounds, so I try to live on the backboard and do whatever it takes to get opportunities and extra plays for my team. So I just try to live on the backboards.
Dexter, Carolina traditionally plays big men, post inside out. This is a departure for your program. Have people taken to it around the program, fans and what not?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: I think so. I think everybody's now accepted the fact that we're going small. I think we're playing well at it. I think the first time we switched up the lineup was the Duke game.
Even though we lost that game, I think it brung us together as a team. I think we won six games in a row after that. We just saw what type of team we could be with that lineup and we stuck with it.
To this day, I think we're still playing, you know, better with that lineup.
Some people are saying that because of the history that Coach Williams has with this area, he may get booed tomorrow when you are introduced. Was that something you would pay a bit of attention to? Might that motivate you? Have you talked about that?
DEXTER STRICKLAND: Absolutely not. We have not talked about it at all. I don't think coach cares about getting booed. I'm pretty sure he's experienced that throughout his whole career of coaching. That's probably the least of his worries.
But we're not focused on that at all. We're not focused on the fans and them booing us or them booing Coach Williams. That's not what we thinking about.
Reggie, what do y'all know about Villanova in terms of their style of play? What kind of challenges will they present for you?
COACH WILLIAMS: They try to play physical. They got some good guards. James Bell, the Hilliard kid. They can shoot the ball, they're very aggressive.
We've been hearing a lot of things about them being tougher than us as a team. I know my guys going to be ready to come out and battle tomorrow. We're going to have to be able to solve those type of problems on the court.