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January 18, 2012

Moment of truth

The lasting impact of Saturday's 90-57 loss at Florida State will be whatever Carolina makes of it.

UNC can rationalize and make excuses for the inconsistencies that have plagued it throughout much of this season, or the Tar Heels can pull together, get tougher and utilize their talent to have an excellent season and make a run at the national championship.

"We were so bad on Saturday," Coach Roy Williams said. "If I emphasize that too much, it takes away from a great Florida State win. … They beat us in every phase of the game. We're not very excited about the way we played, but we had better be excited about [improving]."

Carolina (15-3, 2-1 in the ACC) will get its first chance at redemption on Thursday at 9 p.m. against Virginia Tech (11-6, 0-3) in Blacksburg.

This much is certain: The Tar Heels will either get physically and mentally tougher or their opponents are going to bash them harder and harder they the rest of the way.

"We set down certain things that we wanted the guys to do and put it out there, and it was not done in every area," Williams said. "We didn't defend; we didn't rebound; we didn't push the ball. We wanted to
really push the ball in transition. There was no phase of the game where we did what we thought we were going to do."

Yet if Williams were to address the worst part of what occurred on Saturday, it would probably be the fact that his team did not compete. Tyler Zeller is the only player who looked as if he was prepared to play.

Passion is a vital part of winning championships. There have been plenty of moments this season when the Tar Heels have lacked it.

There have been other times when the Tar Heels showed why they were the favorites to win the national title when the season started.

And this team can still be great.

The idea that Carolina has no shot at the title because it played so poorly and lost by such a huge margin to the Seminoles is nonsense. Well, it is nonsense if the Tar Heels decide to make it nonsense.

This team is just as blessed with athleticism and overall talent as it was when Carolina began the season number one in the nation.

The horse whipping on Saturday just proved that being an NBA prospect or a McDonald's All-American isn't worth the price of an item on the dollar menu without the desire required of genuine winners.

"I don't want to overreact," Williams said. "I think everyone will say that, but that was a real butt-kicking. You just can't ignore that, either."

One could say the Seminoles knocked down the door they have been pounding on with futile results for several years. The Tar Heels barely escaped in its previous four games trips to Tallahassee.

In those games, Carolina brought a national championship team, another Final Four team, a team that made it to the round of eight and a team of freshmen who finished second in the ACC regular-season standings. That team won by a point.

Had this team been building the kinds of habits it should have during November and December, diving for loose balls instead of bending at the waste, pushing itself to go a hard 40-minutes every night, the Tar Heels may still have lost on Saturday but they would not have embarrassed themselves in the fashion that they did.

"Even when we were winning nine in a row," Williams said, "go back to the press conferences. I wasn't always saying glowing things. I kept saying our team's got to get better. It's just that [Saturday's loss] hit the kids between the eyes more than me saying it."

What this team does with that black eye will be what determines how it is remembered.


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