Tar Heels Shoring Up Ball Screen Defense

Roy Williams spoke to reporters on Friday ahead of Saturday's top-25 tilt with Florida State.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Roy Williams was vocal with his disappointment in his team’s defensive performance in the second half of North Carolina’s 93-87 win over Wake Forest on Wednesday. The 14th-year UNC head coach highlighted the Demon Deacons’ ability to attack the rim off ball screens as a primary reason for his team nearly blowing a 19-point second half lead.

With the Wake game in the past, but a date with No. 9 Florida State on the horizon, Williams says his team must improve its defensive effort, even if the ball screen is not a primary component of Leonard Hamilton’s offense.

“Florida State didn’t set a ton of ball screens [against Virginia],” Williams said at his press conference on Friday. “Now, if they watched our defense the other night they may put in 73 more plays since then and have a ton of them tomorrow.”

UNC’s trouble with the ball screen comes down to effort, or the lack of it, when referencing the Wake Forest game in particular.

“What we did was we had one crucial error and kept making the same mistake,” Williams said. “We were sort of passive and they’re attacking and if you’re going to attack me, I can’t be a passive defender, I’ve got to be ready.”

While some may point to a lack of communication as UNC’s Achilles heel in regards to the screen, sophomore guard Kenny Williams says that it’s never been the issue. He instead agreed with his coach, citing a mentality of playing harder as the cure to those defensive woes.

“(It’s) just effort,” the 6-foot-4 guard said. “I just think we have to play harder on the ball screens. We have to make it a conscience effort to say that we’re going to stop the ball screens. I think that’s our biggest thing to get it in our heads and focusing and saying we’re going to we’re going to stop and not let this happen.”


Florida State has a lot of depth and a lot of length. What is it about them that their play that makes them particularly effective?
“Well they use it. It’s effective for them defensively because they have good feet and the length so they bother your shot. They bother the passing lanes, where you want the ball to go they can stop it. They’ve used their length, athleticism, and their brain. I think they’re a really intelligent team, too. They’ve figured out a way to play that’s extremely important to them and everybody is buying in and it’s really a fun team to watch. Their length is hard around the basket trying to get second shot opportunities. It’s hard trying to get an open shot because they can close on you so much and it’s hard to get your offense running because they can get out and push you out three to eight feet farther out than you want to be.”

How much more imposing is their length now that you won’t have Tony Bradley?
“Well the length is still the same thing it’s just that we don’t have one of the weapons. That makes it more difficult, but some way we’ve still got to play because they’re not going to let us cancel the game because Tony is not playing. You’ve got to make sure that you’re playing early.”

Can we anticipate that we’ll see a lot more of that small lineup again?
“I don’t know if I anticipate it, but it tends to be reasonable because we have one less guy. I’m not going in saying, ‘okay we’re going to play a small lineup.’ I’m going in and saying we’re going to play Kennedy (Meeks), Isaiah (Hicks), and Luke (Maye), and if anybody is in foul trouble like we were against Wake Forest then we’ll have to make some other moves. It’s not our plan to go small right off the bat, no.”

How important will it be to avoid foul trouble, especially with Isaiah Hicks?
“Well it’s really hard in this kind of game because there’s going to be a lot of possessions because we’re going to run it up and down and they go fast paced. It’s more difficult in this kind of game than it is against somebody that wants to control tempo more.”

Florida State has had over three players score over 20 points over the last three games. How difficult is it to prepare for that kind of depth?
“Well you guys have heard me say for 14 years that that’s the way I like to have teams because you can’t focus on one guy. You have to look at Bacon first because he’s the leading scorer… For us Rathan-Mayes scores 60 every time he plays us so you have to be aware of him, too…. I think it is the most difficult kind of team to guard.”

How critical is it to win these home games and is it harder than ever for teams to win on the road in the ACC?
“I think it makes a difference where you play, it’s critical to try and win. I’ve always felt like my team needs to understand that we can win on the road, we’ve just got to play well. You shouldn’t think the crowd is going to help you win the home game and if you play poorly you’ll still win. I try not to get so focused on that part as opposed to the belief of, ‘lets play well.’ If we play well, we’ve got a better chance of winning, whether it’s here, there, or anywhere. It’s hard, period.”

How have you seen Kenny’s defensive game change since the beginning of the season?
“I don’t think his defensive game has changed. I said it in the preseason that I thought he had a chance, and may already, be our most effective defender on the perimeter. I think he’s getting more comfortable and maybe making decisions a little quicker because of the experience. He has a chance to be a really good defensive player.”

What’s the biggest difference between him and Nate Britt when it comes to defense?
“Kenny is bigger, quicker, those kinds of things. Nate follows the party line, tries to do the right thing all the time but may not be able to make a block like Kenny, who’s chased down a couple of people to make a block. Kenny will take a few more charges.”

Two games in, what have you liked about what you’ve seen from Theo Pinson?
“I’ve had comes who come back and start scoring immediately and I’ve had guys who took a while. Theo has come back being Theo. He’s had some really good stats for two games except for shooting the ball in the basket. He’s 0-7, but averaging four rebounds and has seven assists in two games, so he’s doing those types of things. I’d like for him to make some shots also…. I don’t want to press him into thinking he’s got to score to help us. He’s got to continue being a basketball player and scoring is a part of that, but it’s not the only thing.”

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