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February 25, 2013

Win streak increasing confidence

Roy Williams wasn't in town Monday night to participate on his weekly radio show, as his feet were out walking the recruiting trail.

Filling in in his place was UNC Assistant Head Coach C.B. McGrath.

McGrath has spent the last 14 years of his coaching career as a member of Williams' staff, with the last 10 in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels are coming off a week where they beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta and North Carolina State in Chapel Hill.

The win against the Wolfpack allowed UNC to get back in the win column against their in-state rivals, after N.C. State snapped a 13-game losing streak against the Tar Heels with a 91-83 win earlier in the year in Raleigh.

"Obviously N.C. State speaks for itself. It was a fun atmosphere from the get-go. It was a game of runs," said McGrath. "That was really good for our guys. They really worked hard, they were focused and it was a little payback for what happened in Raleigh."

Much to the delight of eager Tar Heels fans eager for him to break out,
Marcus Paige had a stellar performance against N.C. State just over a month removed from his first performance against the Wolfpack.

The first time around in Raleigh served as a motivator for the young point guard.

"He (Paige) did a great job and had a huge second half. He made that big three. He does a good job facilitating our offense. He's had some really big games as of late," said McGrath. "He played really well against Virginia Tech. He, amongst all of the other people on our team, feels more comfortable at home."

McGrath talked about the effort Paige and others put forth to stop the Wolfpack's point man, Lorenzo Brown.

"Brown never seemed like he was comfortable. Marcus did a good job picking him up early and the big guys did a good job getting back and building a wall so he (Brown) couldn't get a full head of steam. That was a huge thing for us defensively," said McGrath.

Williams had concerns that UNC would face an uphill battle in the rebounding department by inserting P.J. Hairston into the starting line-up, but the change has allowed UNC to flourish in other areas.

Defensively, UNC has 42 steals since Williams made the switch. UNC also holds a significant edge in points-off-turnovers winning that category by a margin of 77-38 in the last four games.

UNC has only committed 26 turnovers over the current three-game win streak.

"It gives us an extra ball-handler so we're not turning it over as much and it gives us an extra perimeter defender or even inside," said McGrath. "You know P.J. (Hairston) did a good job running around C.J. (Leslie) to get a couple steals."

McGrath also spoke about what finally convinced Williams to start a smaller line-up.

"It was something that we wanted to try to see if it would work. We had tried other things. Miami was sort of the last straw where we really need to make or break," said McGrath.

"The thing that we always came back to after every loss was we need to have a little bit more of an explosive offense, more of an explosive offense in there originally as opposed to trying to come back from 10 or 12 points down and then having that offense in there."

"Going into the Duke game and P.J. was probably going to be more of a match-up problem for them, especially with them not knowing (that he was going to start)," said McGrath. "I think it did hurt them early because they started Josh Hairston and I think they thought that they would put Hairston on
McAdoo and put Mason Plumlee on Desmond Hubert. But since P.J. started I think it caused them problems originally but then they adjusted at halftime."

Not only has the line-up boosted the Tar Heels stats but it has also increased the confidence level of the team, something McGrath puts firmly on the shoulders of Hairston.

"I think we've continued to get better especially in the ACC season. Once P.J. got inserted into the starting line-up he's had some big games for us. A lot of guys have gotten some confidence from that," said McGrath.

"It's obviously worked for us with the stats and guys are more confident, playing harder and I think the more you win the better they usually play."

"I think it stems from P.J.. He's a confident kid. He thinks every shot he shoots is going in. He can shoot from half court and think it's going in," said McGrath. "I think everybody just sort of understands that. If he gets it going everybody else thinks they're going to get it going. I do think that helps."

Reggie Bullock had a huge performance Saturday afternoon against N.C. State scoring 22 points and collecting 13 rebounds.

"Reggie (Bullock) stepped it up. He was struggling a little bit early in the second half. He got an offensive rebound after a missed free throw and then he made a couple three's," said McGrath. "I think that offensive rebound got him going. When he hit that first shot I think he got his confidence back with those three's."

McGrath offered a unique perspective on the role assistants play in assisting the head coach during recruiting.

"We need, as assistants, to see the up-and-comers first. Then we need to decide who coach Williams should go see. Once coach goes to see these kids he decides who he wants and then from there come the offers," said McGrath.

"We might see over the summertime 50 kids, but coach is going to focus on the four or five that he really likes. Now of the 50 we're going to say 'Hey coach, this guy really does have a chance,' and at some point he will see him (the recruit). So we do more of the leg work and see more. He focuses in on who he wants more and shows them the love and attention that they deserve and obviously does all the offering."

UNC big man Joel James has missed the last few games after suffering a concussion. McGrath gave a brief update on the health of James.

"I think the practice before we played State was the first time he (James) had done contact drills and I think the coaches felt it would be unfair to him to stick him in there after he had only had one day (of practice). But he's coming around," said McGrath.

"He just needs to get back into a little bit of shape because once you sit for that long, even if you're riding a bike and trying to stay in shape, it's not the same as being out there and practicing. Now that he's cleared to play, he hasn't shown any effects of a concussion in the last four practices we've had so it's been good.

UNC is heading into the stretch run of its schedule. With only four games remaining (at Clemson, Florida State, at Maryland and Duke) the Tar Heels are gearing up for the postseason.

"Playing anyone on the road is difficult. Our guys didn't play great but Georgia Tech didn't play great. We kept on competing and kept on battling. Obviously, we didn't make a lot of shots down there," said McGrath.

"But if you can stay in the game defensively on the road and make the big plays when you need to that's, what we did down there at Georgia Tech."







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