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February 23, 2013
Point Guard Play Coming Around
Coming into the season, the point guard position was something that was a concern for the Tar Heels, with Marcus Paige being handed the reins right off the bat.
However, times seem to be changing or should I say, the players have been growing.
North Carolina (19-8, 9-5) defeated its in-state rival N.C. State Saturday evening 76-65, with UNC being able to counter the Wolfpacks length with their quickness along the perimeter.
That was especially true when talking about the two players who have played the most at point, Paige and Dexter Strickland.
Paige had a forgetful night when the Tar Heels traveled to Raleigh, as he struggled all night against Lorenzo Brown.
Paige was not going to let that happen again and Roy Williams summed it up well about his point guard Saturday night.
"My little freshman is a tough little nut," Williams said after the game. "He's getting better and better as we go along."
In Saturday's game, Paige carved up N.C. State's defense, especially in the second half, when he attacked the rim left and right, totaling 14 points to go with his eight assists.
Strickland led the charge in the first half, when he had the advantage against Scott Wood with quickness and driving ability.
Strickland had six points in the first half, shooting three of four from the floor, with the only miss being a jump shot.
In the end, Strickland had eight points, but was able to contribute four assists also.
Strickland seemed to hand over the offense (as Strickland was looked more at the defensive end) to Paige in the second.
Paige struggled early, having zero points in the first half. However, when the team needed him the most, Paige was able to step up as the floor general.
At the 12:43 mark in the second half, Williams had subbed out all five players to send a message, something that Williams has done in the past when he wasn't quite happy with the play on the floor.
North Carolina had Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Luke Davis, Jackson Simmons, and Desmond Hubert in the game and not having too much offensive power.
Paige was the only the true offensive threat that UNC had and Paige delivered with a timely three pointer, the first points in the game for him.
From then on, the confidence gleamed out of the Dean Dome, as Paige took over the game late to seal the win for North Carolina.
Even though Paige still is learning and has a long way to go, his teammates have noticed his potential and what the "little nut" is capable of.
"He's been growing," Reggie Bullock said. "His confidence is sky high, and he feels like he can compete with anybody. We know that he can compete with anybody. "
"He's just going to try to make the best play to help his teammates. When he gets his feet set, we always feel like his jumper's going in. He's a smart point guard."
There is no doubt that this team has changed dramatically since the beginning of the season, as the whole team has grown as one.
The change in the lineup has undoubtedly switched turned this team around, but the play of Paige and Strickland has boosted everyone's confidence.
It was not too long ago that Strickland was in a terrible slump and looked a little loss in the offense and on the floor in general. Shots weren't falling, his minutes fell, and Strickland was looking for something that he could hang his head on.
Now, in the past five games, Strickland has played well, averaging eight points per game and dishing out 20 assists compared to only four turnovers.
Backing up Paige has been no easy task, but the offense seems to run just the same, if not better at times when Strickland is running the point.
With Paige and Strickland working hand and hand, doing what Williams wants them to do at the point guard position, this is a team that can compete with anyone in the country, showing its potential and future.
With the quality win and solid play from its floor generals on Saturday, North Carolina will look to build on its recent success, as UNC travels to Clemson on Thursday.
With the season coming to an end and with so many games under the point guard's belts, both will have to continue their high level of play for this team to be successful.
If so, this is a team that has flown under the radar all year long, but might be peaking at the right time.
However, Williams knows that the team can't look too far ahead and James Michael McAdoo clarified that in the post-game press conference.
"I think the biggest thing is not worrying about the future," McAdoo replied. "Not worrying about the tournaments, none of that. Just focusing on each and every day."
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