Heels look to stop Pack

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- N.C. State takes to the Smith Center floor Wednesday night looking for its fifth-straight victory over North Carolina. The Wolfpack's Princeton-like offense and legitimizing win over Georgia Tech, coupled with the Tar Heels' inconsistencies on defense, should make this one interesting.

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The Wolfpack have not won three-straight in Chapel Hill since taking seven in a row from 1947-54.

No. 12 UNC's (12-4, 2-3 ACC) quick rise to national prominence – though not totally unexpected – seems to have put the ills of a combined 27-36 mark over the past two seasons safely in the rearview mirror. But prior to the Tar Heels' rebirth, many records of longevity were severed. And that goes for their opponents as well, which exacted measures of revenge for years of frustration.

Of the current Wolfpack (11-4, 4-1 ACC), only seniors Scooter Sherrill and Marcus Melvin have ever lost to Carolina. State took full advantage of the Tar Heels' swoon with back-to-back season sweeps over its historic rival.

The low-point occurred on Jan. 23, 2002, when red overwhelmed blue in the Dean Dome, and Carolina fell easily to the Wolfpack, 77-59. Chants of "red, white, red, white" -- could be heard well down Manning Drive – a dark day indeed for the Tar Heels.

Then Kansas coach Roy Williams got a phone call that night from his son, who was in disbelief.

"They were stunned," Williams said during his press conference on Tuesday. "Scott told me how bad it was."

Carolina – now at full-strength – is the nation's highest scoring team, as conference standings begin to provide a more accurate gauge of the league pecking order. Still, the Tar Heels rank last in two of the ACC's key defensive categories, as they are giving up 76.3 points per game, while their opponents are shooting 44 percent.

State has never faced UNC center Sean May – the ACC's third-leading scorer (16.1 ppg.) and second-leading rebounder (9.9 rpg.).

"He has great touch and can really score very well, They do a terrific job of getting him the ball," NCSU coach Herb Sendek said. "He's clearly been identified as one of the nation's top frontcourt players and is a handful for opposing defenses."

When it has the ball, the deliberate Wolfpack must remain patient. A quick offensive outburst by the Tar Heels to start the game would likely severely damage State's not-so-secret game plan, and raise its temptation level for bad shots.

If indeed State is able to control the tempo, then it might take away from the match-up between the ACC's two top scorers, Rashad McCants (18.8 ppg) and Julius Hodge (17.7 ppg.).

A slow pace and low score would not favor the Tar Heels' break, which they rely on heavily. The screens and backdoor plays that they know are coming will test their patience as well.

"It's very similar to playing against teams coached by Bobby Knight," Williams said. "You have to be willing to play that defense for the 35 seconds. If you all of sudden you get antsy and try to do something you shouldn't do; that's when you get beat.

"They have the ability to spread you out a little bit," he said. "They can play five guys on the post and have five guys that can shoot threes. Their movement of the basketball is fantastic and they're extremely unselfish. They're very comfortable with their style of play and they're getting better and better every day. They've got seven or eight guys that can hurt you."

If the Tar Heels fall behind and have to foul down the stretch, then the game could already be over. Along with Texas State, the Wolfpack lead the country, shooting 78.5-percent from the free throw line.

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