'Streaking' Heels invade Virginia

North Carolina travels to Virginia in search of its first three-game winning streak after starting the season 6-0. The Tar Heels were ranked No. 4 by the AP on Dec. 15 – at the pinnacle of that stretch. This week UNC checks in <a href=http://northcarolina.theinsiders.com/2/236884.html>at No. 12</a> – its highest ranking since – and can claim its first regular season series sweep of the Cavs in five years Tuesday night.

  • Previewing Virginia

    The last time the Tar Heels (16-7, 6-6 ACC) swept the Wahoos was in 1998-99, having split in '01-'02 and '02-'03 and dropping both in '99-'00 and '01-'02.

    Prior to that, Virginia (14-10, 4-9) had not won in Chapel Hill post-Ralph Sampson.

    That's what UNC coach Roy Williams remembers as a former assistant to Dean Smith. Except for Williams the inhabitants of the two benches will be different, but he surely is aware of the tough opposition that awaits the Tar Heels annually in Charlottesville.

    "Wow, it has been a while," Williams said. "The first thing that comes to mind is the great games we had with Virginia when we would go up there and they had Ralph Sampson. We had the top two or three teams in the country every year.

    "The crowd is always excited up there and I just found out today that we have a four-game losing streak up there. We've got to really be good if we expect to stop that."

    Carolina won easily, 96-77, in the Smith Center exactly one month ago.

    Now put aside the history for a moment and take a close look at the immediate past. While UNC may be amidst a run, Virginia has won two of its last three games – both on game winning threes by senior Todd Billett against Georgia Tech and at Clemson. On the inside, junior center Elton Brown, who leads the ACC< shooting 50.2-percent from the floor.

    "I know they have gotten so much more confidence from these last-second wins that they've gotten," Williams said. "That always gives your kids confidence that you can execute and get it done at the end. And they have been pretty doggoned good at home, even when they were struggling."

    Williams emphasized the need to rebound, something the Tar Heels have been successful doing. Coming off a plus-20 rebounding margin against FSU, a category in which UNC is ranked second in the league (+4.2), just one tenth of a percentage point behind Clemson, while Virginia is last (-5.1).

    "We've got to do a great job on the backboards, because when their big guys get involved early rebounding and putting the ball in the basket, they have really been a good team," he said.

    UVA coach Pete Gillen's concern is reciprocal: "Our rebounding has not been good," he said. "That comes from strength, athleticism and boxing out. We've improved a lot, but we've still got a long ways to go, and that begins with our defensive rebounding."

    Based on tradition, expect Virginia to be firing its long-range ordinance early and often, as three of the Cavs' top five and five of their top 10 all-time games in terms of three-point field goals attempted have come against Carolina.

    With a win, the Tar Heels could temporarily gain sole possession of fourth place in the ACC -- within striking distance of Wake Forest, which hosts FSU Wednesday.

  • Reserve Cavs' forward Devin Smith, who is averaging 12.3 points per game, is listed as questionable.

    "I don't know if he'll play or not," Gillen said. "His status is day-by-day. He's a good player; we need him, but injuries are a part of the game. He's still sore and he did not practice [Sunday], so I really don't know."

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