Oiling the Offensive Engine

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Barely two weeks ago, it appeared as though the North Carolina offensive juggernaut was due some time in the shop to clean up rust-related issues. But a trip out West served the same purpose, as the top-ranked Tar Heels are back to operating at full speed.

In the season opener against Penn on Nov. 15, North Carolina shot just 33.3 percent (9-of-27) in the second half. The Tar Heels followed that up by connecting on just 42.4 percent (42-of-99) of their field goal attempts over their next 60 minutes of action. But an interesting thing happened in the second half of the win over UC Santa Barbara, as the Gauchos shooting percentage dropped (51.9 to 39.3), UNC's improved (44.8 to 50.0).

North Carolina's defensive efforts sparked what had been a relatively-stagnant offense for a Roy Wiliams-coached squad, and the up-tempo style that fans love and opponents fear was off the blocks and screeching down the hardwood.

The Tar Heels have knocked down 50 percent or more of their attempts in each of their last nine halves of play, and their 107.8 points per game average over the past four contests is the second-highest four-game average in school history, trailing only the 1985-86 team's 114.3 mark. Under Williams, UNC is 60-1 when scoring 90 points or more.

"We've been unselfish," Williams said during his Monday night radio show. "For the most part, we've taken good shots. It's like I keep saying to the guys, ‘You know what a good shot is for us, so don't take a bad one. If you teammate is there and he's got a better shot, throw it to him.' It's a pretty simple game to me."

The shocking aspect of these statistics is that the early-season doldrums were understandable – seven of UNC's 13 scholarship players had suffered some form of injury prior to the trip out West, including reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough. Williams admitted several weeks ago that his staff still needed to install certain plays due to the instability of having such a fluctuating roster during practice.

But Ty Lawson has proven that he has completely rebounded from last season's ankle injury, serving in the role as the engine to North Carolina's scoring machine. The junior point guard has delivered a phenomenal 10:1 assist-to-turnover ratio over his last four games, dishing out 30 assists while committing just three turnovers. Under his direction, the Tar Heels have notched an assist on 59.8 percent of their field goals, up from 52.5 percent last season.

For Lawson, the ability to run this high-powered offense is a fairly simple task.

"When my teammate gets the outlet or gets the rebound, I just get out to the side and then look up the court and see where people are running and things like that," Lawson said. "I just push the ball as fast as I can."

And while Deon Thompson (15.6 points, 8.0 rebounds) and Danny Green (14.6 points on 59.4 percent shooting) have both elevated their level of play this season, Wayne Ellington (13.4 points on 44.7 percent shooting) has yet to return to his 2007-08 level (16.6 on 46.7 percent shooting). But Williams indicated that most of his players are becoming more adept at filling the lanes and getting up and down the court.

"Danny's running pretty well, Wayne's running well, Bobby [Frasor] gives him someone else up there running and if we can get Deon and Ed [Davis] to run in addition to Tyler when Tyler comes back, then I think it makes it even more valuable what Ty can do," Williams told reporters during Tuesday's press conference.

As aforementioned, North Carolina's play on the defensive end of the court has played a significant role in this turnaround, holding three of its last four opponents to under 30 percent shooting in the first half.

With a highly-anticipated matchup with No. 12 Michigan State on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge looming, the Tar Heels are looking to continue their current offensive assault as the Spartans rank dead last in their conference in field goal percentage defense (43.9).

UNC opponents, be forewarned – this may only be the beginning.

"We really haven't shot it that well, yet," Williams said on Monday. "For a whole game, we really haven't come out and shot the ball like I really think we can shoot it. So I'm looking forward to that day myself."

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