Pivotal Showdown

CHESNUT HILL, Mass. --- In the short but storied basketball series between North Carolina and Boston College, the Eagles knocked the top-seeded Tar Heels out of the 1994 NCAA Tournament and defeated UNC twice last season. On Saturday the two teams meet again in perhaps the most pivotal ACC contest so far this year.

"That was tough," Wes Miller said of last season's match-ups with the Eagles. "We played them twice last year and didn't feel like we could get over the hump in both those games. They out-battled us and they're a physical team."

The Tar Heels last win over BC was a 110-90 shootout in the consolation round of the 1975 NCAAs, when Mitch Kupchak scored 36 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Both UNC and BC, with Virginia Tech and Virginia, have just three losses apiece with 15 days left in the regular season. Carolina, the prohibitive preseason league favorite, is in dogfight for ACC supremacy.

With road games at Maryland and Georgia Tech, and home match-ups with NC State and Duke, Carolina (22-4, 8-3 ACC) can hardly afford to pick up another loss and keep pace with the conference leaders as well remain in the running for a No. 1 seed this year's NCAA Tournament.

A growing trend now that Williams has settled in at UNC is his teams have bounced back from losses. The Tar Heels have lost back-to-back games just one other time in the last two seasons – home and away losses to Miami and Virginia last year.

To label the game with Boston College (18-7, 9-3) as ‘must-win' seems premature with five games remaining, but this is clearly the Tar Heels' most important game to date – if not simply the first of many.

"This is what it's about when you're a competitor and an athlete," Miller said. "At this point, and with the position we've put ourselves in, every game is important. Hopefully we'll thrive in this situation."

But more important than the obvious fact every game means a great deal from here on out, is the current collective psyche of a UNC team coming off an 81-80 overtime heartbreaker to the Hokies Tuesday night.

The consensus belief in the locker room is inconsistent focus in practice on Monday foreshadowed the loss, in which UNC came out flat shooting the ball and lacked intensity on the boards.

Roy Williams said, "A huge thing for us was keeping Deron Washington off the boards, and the very first play of the game, the guy that was supposed to box him out (wasn't there)."

Marcus Ginyard, who was adamant about the lack of concentration and effort in preparation for the game, said the team bounced back on Thursday after having Wednesday off.

"There were definitely better signs of urgency yesterday in practice," Ginyard said. "Coach Williams wasn't screaming at us yesterday. We just all looked at each other after and said, ‘That was a good one.' We needed to get beat up a little bit and get our mind right to get ready for Boston College.

"It's sad that's what needed to happen, but that's just the reality of it. We needed that. I'm glad the coaches pushed us, and I'm glad we got better yesterday."

Steadily improving defense has been a key to the Tar Heels' success this season. Carolina has held the opposition to less than 40 percent shooting in 11 of the last 18 halves since the first loss to Virginia Tech, with only four teams having eclipsed the 50 percent mark for a game. And UNC opponents are averaging 17.0 turnovers per game on the season.

However, Ginyard said he's seen signs of stagnancy in the defensive effort at times of late and the Heels need to get back on track.

"I think we're making it more difficult than it needs to be," Ginyard said. "It's something that we need to take pride in and not make excuses."

"Marcus was right," Miller said.


Wright Questionable, Thomas Doubtul for BC

"[Brandan Wright] was in a bang up with guys in the middle and banged his right shoulder up," Roy Williams said Friday. "We don't know if he can participate dummy drills or shooting today. If we had to play today, he could not go. We'll make a decision before the game on Saturday."

Williams said Wright's shoulder was not separated.

Quentin Thomas has been sick and didn't practice Thursday and won't practice on Friday.

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