Heels Prep For KU

SAN ANTONIO — North Carolina has played 38 games this year. On Saturday at the Final Four, the Tar Heels will face their biggest test.

Kansas presents more problems for us than anybody we’ve faced all year by far,” said UNC coach Roy Williams. “They have tremendous perimeter players who can score and defend. They have tremendous post players who can score, defend and rebound. The problems they pose for us is that we really have to play our best defensive game of the year, and it’s not focused on just one guy. “

Williams said it will take complete focus for ‘Carolina to beat the well-balanced Jayhawks.

“You’ve got to play your man and be aware of what is going on,” he said. “I’ve always felt like when the other team has those five guys who can score at any time, that’s the most difficult defensive assignment.”

While both teams love to run and score, Williams isn’t sure just how this game will play out.

“You never know what these kind of games are going to be like,” he said. “Could be that everybody is hitting on all cylinders, going up and down and it’s pretty. But it can also be an ugly game because of how effective the defenses are.”

One element is for sure: Williams will have his game face on. A fierce competitor, Williams has even taken his intensity up a notch since postseason play began.

“Coach has been more fired up,” said sophomore guard Ty Lawson. “You see a little fire in his eye. He showed us two or three times he’s getting goosebumps before practice, how excited he is. Biggest stage. Two games away (from winning the national title).”

“He sent us a message right before the ACC tournament ... that practice, he got on us,” added sophomore guard Wayne Ellington. “We all understood from there. I think that set the tone for our team this postseason. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful so far.”

Lawson elaborated on Williams’ message to the team.

“(He was) just basically getting on us for little things, because he says every play is important (in the postseason),” Lawson said. “In the Final Four, it’s much more important. Things like rebounding, not getting a steal in the passing lanes, he just wants everything to be perfect. He’s been getting on us, yelling.”

The yelling seems to be paying off. UNC has beaten its four opponents in the NCAA tournament by an average of 25.3 points per game, and even scored over 100 points twice. But don’t expect ‘Carolina to score 100 points against KU’s sound defense, though both teams will try to run at every opportunity.

“They have such a good ability to get out and run the ball, which is what we want to do as well,” said junior forward Mike Copeland. “With Kansas, we are willing to run, but we have to be willing to get back on defense as well. That is where a lot of this game is going to be played out, on who can get back on defense.”

North Carolina is definitely hungry after losing in the Elite Eight last season to Georgetown.

“No one wanted to let that happen again,” said sophomore forward Deon Thompson. “No one wants to win more than Tyler Hansbrough. When he gets serious we all get serious. Tyler is a beast on the floor and draws so much attention. It’s hard to hold him down but when people focus on him too much, we have a number of other options. We have the best point guard in the country (Lawson) and have a number of guys who can knock down shots. We have a lot of weapons.”

Like Williams, the ‘Carolina players have great respect for Kansas. In fact, the players say the two teams mirror each other.

“They have good guards and we have quality guards,” Thompson said. “Their bigs are good and so are ours. It is a good matchup one through five on the floor. Kansas is a well-balanced team. I expect them to play fast and push the ball and try and pick up (our) guards early to slow us down. Both teams work the ball inside-out and have great guard penetration.

“We are equal in so many ways. Rush shoots over 40 percent from three-point range and that’s tough, plus he has the ability to get to the basket. He is hard to contain. I do not know if we have played anyone who has KU’s balance one through eight.”

Lawson added: “They don’t really remind us of a team we played. Maybe they remind us of ourselves because they’re so deep and they have balanced scoring. I feel like this is probably the best team we played against all year.”

With such an even matchup featuring two up-tempo teams, this game will likely come down to who wants it more.

“We feel like we’re the best running team in the country,” Ellington said. “For a team to come out and run with us, somebody’s going to give in. And we’re pretty sure it’s not going to be us.”

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