Williams ‘feels good’ about UNC’s win in ACC opener

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN M. ALEXAN­DER jalexan­[email protected]­sob­server.com

The de­meanor from North Car­olina coach Roy Williams af­ter Sat­ur­day’s 85-60 win over Pitts­burgh was dif­fer­ent.

While Williams did not ex­actly seem happy, he was sat­is­fied with the way his team played in its ACC opener. In some of his other postgame news con­fer­ences, he had felt his team, at times, lacked in­ten­sity or did not play good de­fense or turned it over too much.

Af­ter this game, he had praise for the way his play­ers had played.

“All in all, I feel good about (the win),” Williams said.

That’s in con­trast to when he told his play­ers af­ter UNC’s 77-57 win over Har­vard last week, that the ACC would be the big leagues and not Biddy Bas­ket­ball.

The 15th-ranked Tar Heels led by as many as 33 points against Pitt, an ACC op­po­nent that has played well this sea­son.

When asked if this was one of UNC’s best over­all per­for­mances this sea­son, Williams said, “I can say that be­cause I haven’t been pleased all year.”

UNC beat then-No. 4 Gon­zaga 103-90 at home on Dec. 15, but it also com­mit­ted 23 turnovers in that game.

This game, though, was in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment on the road in the ACC. The crowd was loud at the start of the game. The stu­dent-sec­tion booed ev­ery time UNC grad­u­ate se­nior Cam John­son, a for­mer Pitt player, touched the ball.

Pitt trailed just 15-14 with about 12 min­utes left in the first half. But af­ter that, the Tar Heels took over. They went on a 26-3 run over the next 10 min­utes and buried the Pan­thers.

“We jumped out early, and then they tied it up, and the crowd got into it, and we made two or three good plays in a row,” Williams said. “Af­ter that, we just kept me­thod­i­cally play­ing.”

UNC fresh­man guard Coby White led all scor­ers with 22 points. He was 8-for-15 from the floor and 4-for-10 from 3-point range.

The Tar Heels had mul­ti­ple play­ers in foul trou­ble and had to go to their bench ear­lier than nor­mal. UNC for­wards Nas­sir Lit­tle and Bran­don Robin­son both played well off the bench.

Lit­tle had six points and six re­bounds, and a high­light reel block. Robin­son had five points and three steals, some of which led to fast break points.

“In prac­tice I try to pre­pare like I’m a starter ... and just push my­self,” Robin­son said. “So when my op­por­tu­nity and when my num­ber is called, I’m ready to just go in and make a dif­fer­ence in the game, and help us, not hurt us.”

The big­gest im­prove­ment the Tar Heels made Sat­ur­day was

on de­fense. It had been the thing that had both­ered Williams most. In an ACC road game, where mo­men­tum can eas­ily swing in the home team’s fa­vor, and the in­ten­sity goes up a notch, things could have gone bad.

But they didn’t. UNC stayed poised, and forced Pitt to shoot 31 per­cent from the floor over­all, and 11 per­cent from be­hind the 3-point line. Dur­ing that 26-3 run over a 101⁄2 minute stretch in the first half, Pitt went 0-for-8 and com­mit­ted three turnovers.

“We had a (26-3) run?” White asked with a smile, when asked about it. “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

The more Pitt missed, the more its play­ers grew frus­trated.

“We all played, from one through ... 15, I feel like ev­ery­body brought it,” UNC fresh­man Leaky Black said. “In prac­tice, we had a ton of pos­ses­sions where we all just clicked. We were all just talk­ing on de­fense, ro­ta­tions, ev­ery­thing was just there . ... That’s what coach was telling us, that’s what we have the po­ten­tial to do.”

At times, es­pe­cially in the first half, it sure looked that way. In each of UNC’s last three wins – against David­son, Har­vard and Pitt – its op­po­nents have shot be­low 39 per­cent from the floor.

There are still some things UNC must do bet­ter, which is why John­son, who had 15 points in his home­com­ing game, feels like the Tar Heels are not close to reach­ing their ceil­ing.

“There’s just so many ar­eas where we can im­prove,” John­son said. “De­fend bet­ter, re­bound a lit­tle bet­ter, and we didn’t shoot the ball very well to­day.”

UNC shot 43 per­cent from the floor on Sat­ur­day, its fourth con­sec­u­tive game in which it shot be­low 45 per­cent. UNC had 51 re­bounds to Pitt’s 46. But the Tar Heels weren’t sat­is­fied.

“We want a big mar­gin,” John­son said.

When asked about the shoot­ing, he said, “Could be bet­ter.”

Williams said the same about the ar­eas the team could im­prove. UNC has an­other tough op­po­nent next in N.C. State in Raleigh on Tues­day. But if UNC plays like it did against Pitt, where all of its play­ers are click­ing, it will be hard to beat.

PHO­TOS BY ROBERT WIL­LETT rwil­[email protected]­sob­server.com

North Car­olina’s Cameron John­son (13) leaps to­ward the bas­ket against Pitt’s Ter­rell Brown (21) dur­ing the first half Sat­ur­day in Pitts­burgh. John­son, who trans­ferred to North Car­olina from Pitt, scored 15 points in the Tar Heels’ 85-60 vic­tory.

North Car­olina’s Coby White drives to the bas­ket against Pitt’s Kene Chuk­wuka dur­ing the sec­ond half Sat­ur­day.

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