Connecticut Cleans Out Carolina 86-54

STORRS, CONN. -- There was only a light coating of snow late Saturday afternoon outside the Gampel Pavillon, but a late first half Connecticut run snowballed into a virtual blizzard, resulting in a dispiriting 86-54 defeat for the 5-10 North Carolina Tar Heels. Connecticut led by as many as 41 in the second half.

Carolina, playing again without forward Jason Capel, had a poised, impressive start to the game, jumping out to an 11-2 lead. With eight minutes to play in the half Carolina still led 22-20 and looked capable of pulling a monumental upset over the 12-3 Huskies.

The Huskies used a series of putbacks on the offensive glass, spearheaded by Caron Butler, to overcome the sharp Tar Heel start, then added timely three-point shooting from Ben Gordon to push the lead into double-digits.

Sensing the need to stem Connecticut's run and stay within shouting distance, Matt Doherty had Adam Boone and Brian Morrison shift into a 4-Corners offense on the final possessions of the half. Carolina failed to score out of the throwback offense, and a driving three-point play by Butler just before the horn gave Connecticut an 18-point halftime lead.

North Carolina went on a 7-0 run early in the second half to cut the deficit to 50-35. But a Huskie timeout led to a 10-0 Connecticut run. The last thirteen minutes of the game consisted of prolonged garbage time, as a deflated Carolina team struggled to score and yielded numerous layups and dunks.

Doherty summarized the game neatly in his postgame comments.

"They're quick and athletic, and we need to get stronger in the weight room. I think that's evident. We had a two point game, then they had that run and it snowballed on us and we weren't able to recover."

Even Connecticut players were surprised at how quickly the game's competitive stage ended.

"I was expecting a tight game based on what they have done in the past," said guard Tony Robertson, who tallied 13 points in 26 minutes. "But I guess we were really good tonight and wouldn't let them do what they wanted to do on offense."

Typifying the day's frustration was senior Kris Lang. Carolina seemed to do its best job of the season of feeding the post, allowing Lang to take 21 shots, few of which reflected bad shot selection. But the Gastonia senior connected on only six attempts. Fellow senior Brian Bersticker also struggled from the field, hitting just one of six shots.

The lone Tar Heel bright spot was Jawad Williams, who collected 8 of the team's 32 rebounds, blocked three shots, and made progress on lifting his 29% foul shooting by hitting all four of his charity attempts.

Lang was philosophical after the game: "Tonight I wasn't hitting a darn thing. It was just one of those nights It was frustrating, but my teammates kept trusting me with the ball, they kept feeding the ball in to me for that, so I have to say thank you to them for that. But I kept shooting even though I wasn't hitting [laughs]. You have to laugh it off, you just have to. You can't be down on yourself."

Lang added that he loved to take that many shots the rest of the season. "Anybody would be happy to take 21 shots a game, but you wouldn't be happy if you made like 5 of them."

Carolina will try to snap its five game losing streak Wednesday night at home against North Carolina State. NCSU last defeated the Tar Heels in February 1998. Senior leader Jason Capel's status, recovering from a concussion, is day-to-day, according to Doherty.

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