Searching for Buy-In

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While Virginia head coach Tony Bennett was praising his third-ranked Cavaliers for playing for one another in Monday’s 75-64 win over No. 12 North Carolina, Marcus Paige was in the locker room imploring his teammates to look inward for urgency and concentration.

Virginia was methodical in its approach, consistent in its concentration on nearly every possession. There was also a constant tenacity, an unrelenting doggedness, in the Cavaliers' effort throughout their 20th win of the season.

“They played for each other at a high level today,” Bennett told reporters after the game.

The Tar Heels matched the Cavaliers for stretches, such as a scorching hot start offensively and a surge before halftime to take a 33-32 lead into the locker room. UNC’s resolve chipped away midway through the second half, however, as UVa wore the Tar Heels down and wore them out with a 22-6 run.

“I’m disappointed in our sense of urgency at some points during the game,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “I’m disappointed that we gave in.”

Williams talked about a list of bullet points that he writes on the wipe-off board prior to every game. The most important of which being to play with a sense of urgency.

“I just thought Virginia’s sense of urgency was so much greater than ours,” Williams said. “Not a lot to say, guys. They kicked our butts.”

Virginia’s efficiency on both ends of the floor, as well as its toughness across the lineup, drew praise from UNC’s All-American.

“They’re a good team because they execute and they can absorb runs,” Paige said. “Teams can go on runs against them and they don’t falter. They run their stuff, they trust their stuff and they buy into what their coach is telling them, and that’s why they’re successful.”

When asked where his own team stood along that spectrum, Paige offered an honest assessment.

“We’re trying to figure out how to do that,” Paige said. “We have talent, we have pieces, but if you don’t have five guys buying in, playing every possession the way Coach preaches – that sounds cliché and that’s boring talk for media; it’s not anything juicy for you guys – but it’s the truth.

“When you have five guys committed to helping each other on the floor, working together, setting good screens to get the right guys the ball, that’s success. And when you have talent, it elevates it to another level. We’re still trying to figure out how to get to that point.”

UNC’s poor second half on Monday shared commonalities with Saturday’s collapse at Louisville, which prompted Paige’s postgame remarks in the UNC locker room. Nate Britt highlighted his teammate’s emphasis on the need to change at an individual level, while Brice Johnson pointed to Paige’s comments regarding the need for self-reflection.

“Everybody has to go and look in the mirror, myself included,” Johnson said. “Ask yourself if you’re playing as hard as you can, or if you’re doing everything you can to help this team, because at the end of the day, you’re the only person that knows that.”

Britt said the key to making the necessary adjustment begins in practice.

“This week we’re going to have time to ourselves so we can get in the gym if we feel like we need to shoot free throws better,” Britt said. “If your shot hasn’t been falling, you can get extra shots up. But individually, we just all have to look in the mirror and do what’s best for the team.”

Practices have proven to be a challenge of late due to a rash of injuries. Williams has thrown together of smorgasbord of lineups, including former walk-ons like Wade Moody and Denzel Robinson and a JV player in Spencer Dalton. All five point guards have been limited due to injury, while wing Theo Pinson is out with a broken foot.

Neither Williams nor Paige were willing to lean on the injury situation and the corresponding fatigue to explain the breakdowns in execution and lack of concentration at times.

“I know we’re a little banged up, but that’s just splitting hairs,” Paige said. “I think it comes down to being mentally tough enough, not physically tough enough.”

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