CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After the best stretch of his career in January, Isaiah Hicks seems to have hit a wall in the final month of the regular season.
The senior forward, infamously known for his foul trouble, has recorded more fouls (13) than points (10) over the last three games.
The recent performances from the Oxford, N.C. native have been impacted by a lingering injury. Hicks strained his left hamstring in practice the day before UNC’s 86-78 loss to Duke on Feb. 9.
“I think he was really bothered by the hamstring injury,” Roy Williams said on his radio show on Tuesday. “It was significant to him, but it was more significant in his mind than maybe it was in his leg. At the same time, he’s the one that’s having to go through the rehab and the one that is trying to be very cautious and it’s hurt his play.”
Hicks, who averaged 26.6 minutes per game before the injury, is averaging only 18.4 minutes in the five games since his return.
With the postseason tournaments on the horizon, Williams is doing is best to inspire his senior forward to fight through the mental block and remaining pain when his team needs him the most.
“I told him the other day to just play,” Williams said. “I said ‘My knees hurt like crap during the games, but I don’t ever notice it’. The only time I notice it is when the game is over. You lose yourself in the game and I think that’s what Isaiah needs to do.”
It seemed like turnovers early and poor shooting throughout were the problem in Monday’s loss to Virginia.
“There were about a hundred big factors but there’s no question the turnovers in the first half was the biggest thing. We had 10 turnovers in the first half… we average 11 turnovers a game. It was a low tempo game, a low possession game, but it was just ugly, ugly, ugly and we went out in the second half and I thought we’d be better and we missed a wide open shot the first play of the second half. We didn’t shoot it well, didn’t defend well, didn’t play well, didn’t coach well.”
Did you feel like fatigue was a factor against Virginia? It was your third game in six days.
“The schedule has been so ridiculous and… if we had won we wouldn’t have talked about being tired. Three games in six days is difficult. Playing Saturday on the road in Pittsburgh, coming back, and then going to Virginia… when you play road-road in a three-day period, that’s not an easy thing to do… It’s the schedule we were given, we had to play, and we didn’t play well.”
You seem overly gracious in post game press conferences after a loss? Why is that?
“It’s two things. Number one I’ve always felt like when someone beats me I’ve got to give them credit and not just complain about what you did or didn’t do properly. Then for the most part I enjoy the other coaches. I haven’t met many coaches that I didn’t enjoy, didn’t really like, so I’m trying to be sportsmanlike up there, too. Just because somebody beats you doesn’t mean you have to go in there and rant and rave and say things that shouldn’t be said.”
Do you think Isaiah Hicks has a reputation as someone who fouls and if that causes him to get more fouls called against him?
“I do believe he has a reputation and I think some officials get carried away with the things that they hear, but I don’t think an official goes into the game thinking, ‘I’m going to call a foul on Isaiah.’ He puts himself in bad spots sometimes and needs to just stay away from that junk. A big guy should never make a foul below his waist and he does that and shouldn’t get caught and tangled up with people and he does that sometimes. I think sometimes the calls are very unfortunate for him, too.”
Why do you think the road has been so tough for all the teams in the ACC this year?
“There’s a lot of factors in there. The home crowd makes you play harder and gets you a little more enthused… you’re going into a different environment – shooting in a different gym, different lighting. I try to tell our guys all the time that we can win on the road also, but there’s no question that those are factors… In our league it’s been pretty hard to win on the road. I think we ended up with a winning record on the road this year, but it’s been really difficult.”
Why was Virginia’s double team down low more effective last night compared to the first game in Chapel Hill?
“Well they were more aggressive, more attentive, more focused and I think their defense was much stronger last night than when we played them in Chapel Hill because of those factors that we listed earlier. One of the factors it could've been was because we beat them handedly the first time and everybody wants to bounce back and play better. The first play Kennedy (Meeks) makes a bounce pass and Isaiah fumbles it and it goes out of bounds…. They did a good job of doubling in the post early and we didn’t handle it well early and it hurt us.”
What are your thoughts on using a small lineup?
“It depends on the game. Last night we talked about going small to match them better, but that takes away the advantage we have, or should have had, in our inside play. If you do it just to try to match somebody and take away an advantage you have… I don’t think that’s very intelligent. Defense was not the problem, they only shot 32 percent. We just needed to get something going offensively and the place we should have been able to do it was inside with our guys in the post. That’s what we didn’t do. The game is going away from two post players anyway and you have to have some flexibility. With Justin and Theo I think we can go small.”