CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Despite losing in the ACC Tournament semifinals in Brooklyn on Friday, Roy Williams offered a positive historical lesson to his North Carolina squad immediately after the loss and in the days that followed.
That message was one of perspective: UNC’s ’05 and ’09 national championship teams also lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals before closing their seasons with six consecutive victories.
“He explained that to us after we lost against Duke and then he explained it to us when we went to his house to watch the selection show,” junior guard Joel Berry said on Tuesday. “Even before that, he would always tell us about his past teams just to be able to get us in the mindset of what it takes to get us to that point, like the 2005 and 2009 teams. I don’t mind hearing it because it motivates me to be the best I can be and for this team as well.”
However, the comparison isn’t perfect. Both the ‘05 and ‘09 team were dealing with injuries during the ACC Tournament: the 2005 team had its full roster, but starting guard Rashad McCants had just returned from an intestinal disorder, while the 2009 team was without point guard Ty Lawson, who missed the tournament due to an injured right toe.
“Now this year we had everybody and we just didn’t play well,” Williams said at his pre-NCAA Tournament press conference at the Smith Center. “I was mad at the way we played. We came back here on Saturday and went off the bus into the locker room and watched tape for two hours… I know we really refocused each of those years and I think we’ll do that this year.”
In order for the Tar Heels to travel the same path as UNC’s last two national championship teams, according to Williams, they need to improve defensively.
“Both of those teams were really good defensively,” the 14th-year UNC head coach said. “When we left Atlanta (in 2009) I think they really focused that week before the NCAA, and we were really good defensively. I think in ‘05 we came back to the practice gyms and I took all the rims down… that was the big emphasis both times and it’s something that we worked on a little bit yesterday, too.”
What did you learn from Brooklyn?
“It wasn’t anything new. It just confirmed that you’ve got to be totally involved on both ends of the court or you’re not very good. In the first half things are easy and then after Joel (Berry) went out things got difficult and we didn’t handle the adversity very well. You play in the ACC you have those situations put on you a lot. Sometimes we do okay, a lot of times we haven’t. I think I was just more impressed with Duke. Amile (Jefferson) is healthier and I thought he was phenomenal… I thought Harry (Giles) was closer to the Harry that we saw before all the knee surgeries… If they get play like that from the two big guys, then they’re better than everybody, I think. It was good for them, they played well, and we didn’t play as well as we wanted to play.”
Are Justin Jackson’s struggles a symptom of winning the ACC Player of the Year award?
“Well it could be, but the first two games he hadn’t won it yet. Virginia at Virginia and Duke here he didn’t shoot the ball well in either one of those games. In the tournament of course it had been announced, but it hadn’t been announced in those two games. I think a lot of it is to the effect of who you play…. If you go back and watch the tape against Virginia, London Perrantes is sitting on the bench with his head down and two different coaches got to console him in the game here. Up there it’s the most focused I’ve ever seen him defensively, and he was really good… and their team is really good defensively. I think sometimes you just have to give credit to the other team… I think that’s normal. It affects you.”
Do you think more teams could potentially win the national championship than ever before?
“Yeah I think there’s more parity. Nobody likes to talk about it, but I think there’s more good players. There’s more good players out there that can beat you. The ACC this year, who knows what’s going to happen in the next three weeks, but last year what our league did was really impressive. This year as a league it was much better top to bottom… This league this year I thought it was as good a league as I’ve ever been involved in. With that, and with the parity and with there being so many good teams, I think each year there’s more teams that can win it.”
Can you talk about the split second decisions that coaches make about taking somebody out due to foul trouble in a game?
“Well, when (Joel) got his third one, I called him over and said, ‘Now you’ve got to be smart. We’d like to have you in the game.’ Joel said to me, ‘I’m good.’ Well, he wasn’t good. He didn’t take very daggum long to get the fourth one. So he was so ticked off over on the bench. I get down in front of him and said, ‘Listen I need you to keep your head in, I need to get you back in the game.’ He didn’t make me feel like his head was into it. His track record while he had been standing on that bench in Brooklyn didn’t make me feel like he could handle it, so I left him out. It’s not a split decision, you have time to think.”