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February 11, 2012

Mission accomplished

Roy Williams asked for more determination after Carolina's disappointing loss to Duke on Wednesday night.

His team gave him a level of determination that would make any coach proud in the Tar Heels' 70-52 victory against Virginia on Saturday at the Smith Center.

Virginia, at 19-5, 6-4 in the ACC, is an excellent, well-coached team that is having an outstanding season. The Cavaliers fight tooth and nail, and UNC could not have won without the kind of fierce drive to win that a great team needs.

"Virginia is a tough team," UNC sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall said. "We're not going to be able to do whatever we want to do for 40 minutes throughout the game.

"There was a little instance where we were like, 'No, not again.' You want to come out and play well. We found a way to overcome that."

The way Carolina (21-4, 8-2) overcame that was to play tough defense throughout the game, rebound like crazy and score in the final minutes when points could seal the victory.

That is exactly what did not happen against Duke, and the players conceded they have been developing a bad habit by not pushing a 10- or 20-point lead to 20 or 30.

This time when the Tar Heels gained some separation from the Cavaliers with an 11-point lead (61-50) with 4 minutes and 37 seconds left, UNC kept pushing and eventually won by 18.

"That is one thing we haven't done this year, is when we got teams down we haven't stepped on their necks," Marshall said. "Long Beach State, we got a sizable lead, but they hung around. Georgia Tech, I think we got it up to 25, but they got it down to 12.

"We have to learn to step on teams' necks when we get them down, not give them that hope down the stretch that they can win the game."

Tyler Zeller had a magnificent game for the Tar Heels, which is what he has been doing throughout this year. He was exceptional against the Cavs, making nine of 16 field goals, seven of eight free throws, scored 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds, had three assists, a block and three steals.

Five of his rebounds came on the offensive end, which turned out to be one of the key areas that won this game for UNC. Carolina out-rebounded Virginia 52-32, grabbing 23 offensive rebounds.

This enabled the Tar Heels to overcome a 35.3 shooting performance from the floor.

"They had 23 offensive rebounds and that's too many," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "There was a stretch in the second half where we lost our way and couldn't get them off the glass and had some breakdowns defensively.

"We didn't execute. For us to have a chance in a game like this we have to do a better job on the glass, and for whatever reason we struggled.

"We certainly tried to work at it while we prepared for them, but it was alarming at how many second shots and third shots that they got on a possession."

Zeller said that as much as the loss to Duke hurt, and it hurt, keeping Zeller awake until 5 a.m. the next morning, the Tar Heels managed to derive a benefit.

"Losing the Duke game helped us get refocused," Zeller said. "We all came out with the right attitude."

Zeller also echoed Marshall in saying the Tar Heels must get better at putting teams away. Saturday could well be an initial blueprint for that strategy.

"That is something we have to get better at," Zeller said. "The Duke game we relaxed a little bit, and the last three minutes we made a lot of mental errors. That is something we cannot afford to do. It's something we're working on and trying to get better at, and hopefully we can continue to push it higher and higher."

Another positive that sprang from this game was the outstanding performance UNC's bench of James Michael McAdoo, Justin Watts and Stilman White provided.

White and McAdoo gave their finest efforts as Tar Heels. White played eight minutes. He did not commit a turnover and he pushed the ball hard on offense, just in the fashion Williams is always pressing his team to do. He also played solid defense.

This enabled Williams to give Marshall a much-needed break to save his legs.

"Definitely the last game helped," White said. "To play on a stage like that against Duke, nothing can really top that. I gained a lot of confidence after that, knowing I can play against that caliber of competition."

McAdoo played the way a former USA Basketball men's player of the year can play. He logged 18 minutes, scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds. He also had two steals.

"We [bench players] talked a lot before the game," McAdoo said. "With P.J. [Hairston] being out, we knew we would get extended minutes. Stilman is really filling that role, and overall, we're molding as a team.

"The bench as a whole, probably had their best game. We have one of, if the best, front lines in the country. We just tried to go out there and dominate on the backboards."


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