basketball Edit

Heels Looking to End Dismal Stretch in Charlottesville

CHAPEL HILL – John Paul Jones Arena has become, quite literally, a house of horrors for North Carolina’s basketball program.

Not only do the Tar Heels struggle winning there, they have usually been heavy on the gross side offensively. Now, as former UNC Coach Roy Williams always said, buildings never beat his team, and he was always right, it’s who plays in that building. And that’s the major task the Heels face Saturday when they get back into the groove after an open date with a game at Virginia inside its rowdy home.

Carolina has not won at UVA since Barack Obama was still in his first term as president. Not since “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson was the No. 1 song. Not since “Safe House” was the No. 1 movie. And not since Hubert Davis was still working with ESPN.

That’s a long time, and it’s a streak that gnaws at the proud Carolina fan base, and the program, to a degree.

It spans eight games and includes some gory offensive numbers for the Heels. Saturday, they get their chance to put an end to this ugly streak, a mission that begins on the offensive end, and the 10th-ranked Tar Heels being who they usually are with the ball in their hands.

“We always want to dominate points in the paint through the post, penetration, and offensive rebounding,” Davis, now UNC’s head coach, said during the weekly ACC conference call Monday. “That’s consistent with whomever we play. Our persistence of attacking the paint and living there, and living at the free throw line, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Joel Berry and the Tar Heels won the national title in 2017, five weeks earlier lost at Virginia.
Joel Berry and the Tar Heels won the national title in 2017, five weeks earlier lost at Virginia. (UNC Athletics)

The last time Carolina won at JPJ was when Tyler Zeller rammed home a dunk with 13 seconds remaining giving UNC a 54-51 victory.

That was February 25, 2012. Zeller scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds, and John Henson scored 15 points and pulled down 11 boards. Harrison Barnes had nine rebounds and Kendall Marshall handed out six assists that night.

Since then, it’s been bleh for the Heels.

The average score in the streak is Virginia 63.9, Carolina 54. UNC has shot 38.7 percent from the floor, including 28.5 percent from the perimeter, and has averaged 10.6 assists against 12.8 turnovers per contest. UNC has actually averaged outrebounding the Hoos, 37.4-33.9 in this span in Charlottesville. And remember, these are usually low-possession games.

Over the last five contests, the numbers have been more unsettling for the Tar Heels: 59-49 average score; UNC 35.1 percent from the field; UNC 24.7 percent from beyond the arc; and Carolina has averaged just nine assists against 13.2 turnovers.

The Tar Heels’ 58 points at JPJ last season at least snapped a four-game skid of failing to reach the 50-point mark. After doing so in 2016, the Heels failed to until a year ago January. Even the national championship team of 2017 managed only 43 points five weeks before cutting down the nets.

Most teams regularly struggle scoring against Tony Bennett’s pack line defense. So, as the Tar Heels (20-6 overall, 12-3 ACC) prepare for this major challenge, imposing their will is the key. If they can do what they normally do offensively, it could work out in their favor.

“Virginia, obviously, is a great defensive team,” Davis said. “And we’ve got to find a number of ways to be able to get the ball to the paint, get the ball to the basket with Armando, with our guards, in transition, attacking the glass offensively. The free throw line has been a huge key for us…

“That’s something we’ll try to do successfully against a really good Virginia team.”

And if successful, the Tar Heels just might end the nightmare skid in Charlottesville.