CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina head coach Roy Williams is still figuring out the makeup of his starting lineup for Wednesday night’s game at N.C. State.
Williams started junior forward Isaiah Hicks in place of usual starter Kennedy Meeks in Saturday’s 96-71 win over No. 11 Miami.
“There were just some things that affected me mentally, and I decided I wanted to make a change, and we may go back on Wednesday night, and we may not,” Williams said during his weekly radio show on Monday night. “We’ll have a good practice tomorrow morning and we’ll make a decision before the game on Wednesday.”
Hicks finished Saturday’s game with 12 points on 6-9 shooting and five rebounds in 21 minutes. Meeks added eight points on 4-5 shooting with five rebounds in 17 minutes.
“I think Isaiah did some good things,” Williams said. “I [think] Isaiah’s really had a good year for us. He’s done some good things in a lot of games.”
This isn’t the first time the Hall of Fame head coach has tried to shake his starting lineup up to find better results. In UNC’s win at Boston College on Feb. 9, Williams replaced his entire frontcourt, starting Theo Pinson, Joel James and Hicks in place of Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson and Meeks.
The move particularly worked for Jackson, who has averaged more than 15 points per game since the temporary switch.
“I said ‘Justin, I don’t have a reason for doing this, but something’s not working, so I’m going to give this a try and I have no idea if it’ll work, but we’re going try it and see what happens,’” Williams said. “And it worked.”
Regardless of the reasoning or timing, Williams explained that he always makes sure he notifies the players before announcing the lineup.
“I always talk to the kids,” Williams said. “If they act like they don’t know what the crap’s going on, they’re not being truthful.”
Is there a typical amount of game film you show teams after painful losses?
“There’s no set formula. We got killed at Florida State one year by 33 and that was really a good team that went to the Elite Eight and had a chance to be the best team in the country until Kendall Marshall broke his wrist. I wrote ‘33’ up on the board in the locker room and it stayed up there until the last day of practice. Every day I said, ‘Nobody touched 33, did they?’ So I wanted to make sure they remembered it. We watched every single play of that game.
“There’s been two games this year that we brought them in and watched every play of the game, but the Duke game was a little different. If you let them keep it in their system, they sort of get this ‘Woe is me’ kind of thing, feeling sorry for themselves. I don’t like that part of it.
“And we were getting ready to play a pretty doggone good team coming around. We were going to practice on Thursday. I decided after the game Wednesday to give them Thursday off and let them go on their way, let us go on our way kind of thing. I saw a high school game at 11:30 in Raleigh on Thursday and came back and went down to the gym and the weight room just to see if anybody was there, and 11 guys were there on their own. That was pretty good right there and sort of gave me another little information, and then Friday’s practice, we got after it a little bit, but we focused on Miami, was what it was.
“It depends. if I think we just laid down and didn’t give the right effort or the right concentration, I get after them a little bit more, but they’re a very good team that we played, and you know, you can only jump on guys so much if you go 1-for-13 and your guards go 4-for-22. You know, they’re great kids. I’ve never believed that I’ve had a player try to miss a shot, so I thought if we labor the point and dwell on it and dwell on it and dwell on it, we wouldn’t come back in the next game.”
What happened on the final possession of the Duke game?
“We had a breakdown. Somebody didn’t do what they were supposed to do, or it would have been a lot better, to say the least. Joel (Berry) had two options, and at the end, he ended up taking the shot, which was a tough shot. Yes, we thought he was fouled, but they’re not going to necessarily — I’m not going to say they’re not going to call it — but it’s going to be tougher to get that call at the end of a game. You live with that and go on.
“But there’s been a lot of people talking about calling a timeout. I’m not going to call a timeout; I don’t give a blankity-blank what anybody says. I’ve done it that way for 28 years. Dean Smith did it the same way, he’s the one that taught it. That’s just somebody else’s philosophy, that’s okay. I listened to a guy yesterday who said ‘Well, you should always make sure your guys know what’ — my guys knew what to do. It’s something that one guy failed to do what he was supposed to do, and it would have been even more open, but the bottom line is if you call a timeout… And I can’t just say Coach Smith, because Coach (Bobby) Knight and I talked about this a long time one time. When you call a timeout, you don’t know if they’re going to be man or zone. You don’t know if they’re going to double team the player that you’re going to try to get it to. And if your team is good in the open court, you should keep it in the open court.
“I happen to think we’re one of the best teams in the country in the open court, and that’s what we had, and we work on it every day, we practice it every day, but we just didn’t get the final result in [any] of the last three possessions. I said immediately after the game in the press conference, ‘Looking back on it now, I should have called a timeout.’ So why do I say that? I’m not going to go in there and say so-and-so didn’t do his job. Coach Smith always said let’s make sure we take the blame for the losses and let the players get the cheers for the results. Wednesday night, if we have the same scenario, don’t anybody go to the bathroom or anything, because I’m not calling a frickin’ timeout. I don’t care what the heck anybody says. Is that clear enough?”
It seemed you didn’t get the ball to Brice Johnson in the Duke game as much as you wanted late against Duke.
“Down the stretch, he went from 12:45 to 8:43 and he didn’t get a shot. This is a guy who’s got 29 [points] and 19 [rebounds] during the course of the game. Part of it was Brice didn’t move as well. Part of it was some guys didn’t get him the ball. Part of it was the timing. But we can’t have that. That’s something you can’t have if a guy’s having that kind of game. He’s got to get the ball.”
Do you feel like Theo Pinson has been giving your team a spark off the bench lately?
“He really did on Saturday. There was no question he gave us a lift. He did some good things. He had a tough stretch. The first conference game, he was 3-for-3 from the 3-point line, and until—Did he make one in the Duke game, also? At one time he was 1-for-19 from 3. I talked to him, I said ‘I don’t mind, you need to make a few more of those, but I can live with that if you’re really active defensively, if your motor’s going,’ and that’s what Theo’s got going for him. He’s got a high motor. We need that going all the time… But Theo does give us a lift when his motor is going really big. He’s not Steph Curry. Seriously, it’s like 1-for-18 down the stretch there, and he’s 3-for-3 against Clemson. He was in that stretch there where it was not good, so when he has that energy, he does help us. When he’s playing defense, really, he does help us.”