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February 15, 2013

UNC looks to get back on track

Roy Williams decided to shake things up a little bit in the last game against Duke, surprising many with changes in the starting lineup.

Williams decided to start guard P.J. Hairston in a four guard lineup, something that people have hounded him for weeks now.

"I started to do it four or five games ago. Everybody has said, 'Well, are you going to put P.J. in for somebody else?' but nobody knows my team. It's popular to say who the hell is supposed to be in the lineup, and they don't know in the dickens they're talking about," Williams said in his postgame interview Wednesday night.

"We started to make that change four or five games ago, but I never felt as comfortable with it as I did (prior to the Duke game)."

Even though North Carolina (16-8,6-5) ended up losing a tight battle against the Blue Devils Wednesday night 73-68, the Tar Heels showed some pride and determination in a hostile environment, something that has been questioned on the road for UNC this season.

Now, the Tar Heel faithful will look to see if the changes stay or return to normal when Virginia comes into Chapel Hill on Saturday. It will be an early noon tipoff for the Tar Heels and Cavaliers.

Virginia (18-6, 8-3) beat the Tar Heels January 6 in Charlottesville. It was a tight game throughout until the Cavaliers rallied down the stretch to take down UNC 61-52.

Virginia has been one of the hotter teams in ACC as of lately, going 7-1 in its last eight games.

Granted, the teams that they played were some of the bottom feeders in the ACC, but they did take down then No. 19 N.C. State a couple of weeks ago.

Even though North Carolina was not able to get a signature win they needed over the past week, the Tar Heels still have a shot at the NCAA Tournament.

But this game is a must win, without a doubt, for the Tar Heels if they want a chance at the postseason.


HEELS LOOK TO LEARN FROM PAST


Reggie Bullock had one of his best games this season when the Tar Heels traveled to Charlottesville.

Bullock single-handedly kept North Carolina in the game, contributing 22 points for the Tar Heels, shooting seven of nine from the floor, including four three-pointers.

However, the other Tar Heels struggled throughout the game against Virginia's solid defense, as the Cavaliers only allowed 52 points against UNC, their lowest point total so far this year.

North Carolina ended up playing Virginia's type of game; slowing down the pace and working through an entire shot clock, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

The Tar Heels held a one-point halftime lead (UVA only shot 37.5 in first half) and opened up an eight point lead early in the second half.

But from there, UVA carved into the lead with a couple of runs, led by Joe Harris who had 19 points. By game's end, the Cavaliers had shot 44.9 percent from the field, as the Tar Heels struggled to stop the slow pace offense.

The failure of getting key stops on defense, along with the lack of offense doomed the Tar Heels in the second half.

A lead for Virginia might seem small, but with their style of offense and stingy defense, may seem larger than the score indicates.


VIRGINIA'S OFFENSIVE ABILITY


Tony Bennett is a strong coach on the defensive side of the ball, as the Cavaliers have been one of the top defensive teams in the nation this year, only giving up 52.3 points per game.

However, Virginia has added a slightly different dimension to its game, as in recent games they've been scoring more.

For the year, Virginia averages 64.3 points per game, but in their last three games, the Cavaliers have been averaging 77 points per game with an average margin of victory of 22 points.

Bennett's team has had some guys step up offensively, including Justin Anderson, who has scored in double digits two out of the last three games.

The offensive explosion, especially in Virginia's case, has also been squarely on the guards, who have been draining threes.

In the past three games, the guards have hit nine or more three pointers in a game, which is something that UNC has had trouble defending in the past.

Harris will continue to be the go to guy when it comes to scoring for UVa, as Harris has been averaging 21.8 points per game over his last five contests.

The only person in double digits for the Cavaliers the first game the two teams played, North Carolina will have to focus on stopping Harris Saturday.

Virginia will continue to use the guard oriented team that Bennett loves, but whether Williams will use his four guards against the Cavaliers, we'll have to wait and see.

As mentioned above, Williams started his new rotation last week against Duke, which seemed to play pretty well.

However, the things that didn't help the Tar Heels were the lack of bench production, as well as critical missed free throws down the stretch.

The Tar Heels shot 52.9 percent from the free throw line when they took the trip to Charlottesville (9 of 17).

"If I knew how to fix the blessed thing (free throw shooting), I would have already fixed it. But the bottom line is we're not a good free throw shooting team in games," said Williams after his team struggled down the stretch against Duke.

"You'd be amazed at how well we shoot them in practice."

But Virginia knows that it will be hard to slow down the Tar Heels again like they did in the first game, as the Dean Dome will surely be filled on Saturday with a mass of fans eager to see UNC get back in the win column.

"We need to take that intensity on the road. We struggle on the road, so we need to make sure we keep moving the ball and set our defense. We need to bring that extra intensity and that extra energy. It is tougher to beat a team twice," Virginia's Akil Mitchell said.

The Tar Heels have to make a run in the ACC and it has to start now with what would be a quality win against one of the more improved teams in the league.

February is crunch time and there will be teams that fall off, and then there will be teams that make a run into the tournament.

UNC has four more home games and three away games, with opponents such as N.C. State and Duke coming up for visits to the Smith Center.

But the Tar Heels need to take it one game at a time, showing passion and desperation, giving the same effort they had when facing Duke last week.

If not, Saturday could be a long afternoon given the matchup and the way Virginia has been playing. UNC has been an excellent home court team this season, and they need to prove it again in a game they can't afford to lose.









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