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December 20, 2011

Heels lock horns with Texas

There is one certainty heading into Wednesday's 7 p.m. game between fifth-ranked Carolina and Texas at the Smith Center: UNC coach Roy Williams is sick of losing to the Longhorns.

"We've got some things we have to do to get ready to play Texas," Williams said after UNC (10-2) defeated Nicholls 99-49 on Monday. "We ought to be fired up. They've beat us three times in a row.

"It's not the same team, but it's the same coaching staff. The coaches will be fired up."

The Longhorns have actually defeated the Tar Heels fourth straight times, predating Williams' return to Chapel Hill. Dean Smith coached the Tar Heels when they lost in Austin, Texas, in 1995.

Now the Texas coaching staff is led by Rick Barnes, who most Tar Heels fans dislike ever since his days at Clemson. The reason is the way Barnes made Smith the Tigers' No. 1 enemy. The two went nose-to-nose on the sideline during an ACC Tournament game.

Nonetheless, Carolina fans should respect the job Barnes has done at Texas. He has recruited quality athletes and won a lot of games. He has made the Longhorns a regular contender on a national level, something they were not before he arrived.

"They are having a big year," Williams said of the 9-2 Longhorns. "They lost a lot of guys. Rick has really done a big-time job with his program. … It's time we played well.

"Two years ago they just beat us to death on the backboards. Last year we came up one play short, but they made big plays themselves."

This game is the first of a four-game, home-and-home series.

Williams said Barnes' teams stand out for being physical and fundamentally sound.

"Rick's teams are going to defend," Williams said. "They are going to do a great job rebounding, which sounds like an old-school coach, but at the same time he gives his players freedom, and they run the ball.

"J'Covan Brown is a big-time scorer. Myck Kabongo is a freshman point guard who has a chance to be a great player."

Kabongo averages 12.8 points, 6.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. He has hit 23 of 41 (.561 percent) of his field goals and 26 of 37 (.703) free throws.

Brown is the star of this show, though.

He leads the team with 19.3 points per game and 3.5 rebounds, while passing 47 assists (4.3 apg) against 22 turnovers. He can score from anywhere on the court. He has made 45.8 percent (77 of 168) of his field-goal attempts, which includes 25 of 71 (.352) from 3-point range. Brown has scored more than 20 points in a game six times this season and scored in double figures in 10 of the Longhorns' 11 games.

Brown said he is eager to play the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

"I am excited," Brown said. "I would like to see what we can do with a team like that. Can we get back on defense and stop the easy buckets? This game will help us when we get into conference and play all the other teams that like to run. It will be a challenge."

The Longhorns have six freshmen on the roster. Barnes said this will be a test to see how his youthful team adapts against Carolina at the Smith Center and against the Tar Heels' fast break.

"I don't think I can prepare the freshmen for the environment other than taking them into it," Barnes said. "It will be a great atmosphere, but we have to go in and get going. Once we get going we will see how they handle it.

"We might as well get accustomed to it in this game, because with our schedule we will be seeing hostile environments from here on out."

Williams said his team is going to have to play more consistently than it has so far this season.

"We have to play probably the best game we've played since Wisconsin, and we need to do some things better than we did in that game," Williams said.


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