UNC-UVa - The Good & Bad

North Carolina nearly overcame a 20-point deficit but ultimately fell to Virginia, 79-72, before a sellout crowd of 8,392 at University Hall in Charlottesville on Saturday. Here is a look at UNC's fifth loss in 14 games this season:


2nd half - The Tar Heels played with tremendous energy in their second-half bid to overcome Virginia's 18-point halftime lead (which was 20 at one point). They were more aggressive offensively, as Matt Doherty tweaked their approach in an attempt to get Rashad McCants more involved, and it worked. Switching to a man-to-man and applying added pressure did as well. UNC outscored the Cavaliers 42-31 in the second half and outrebounded them 23-14, including a comforting 11-4 on the offensive end. Most of the Heels played well, and the fact they almost came back from the huge deficit on the road against a good team without arguably their best player (Sean May) is a testament to everyone associated with the team.. Doherty said he was excited about the second half, and for good reason.

Offensive glass - Carolina owned the offensive glass, outboarding UVa 22-12 on the day. Byron Sanders had five and McCants and Jawad Williams four each. As a result, UNC had put back 22 second-chance points. Carolina snared 21 offensive rebounds at Miami last weekend, an area the team's stats have improved since May went down. Maybe it's because the wide May took up so much space it made it difficult for mates to get positioning on the o-glass. Or maybe it's because the players are trying exceptionally hard to make up for May's absence. Or maybe they have improved.

Rebounding - Overall, the Tar Heels outrebounded the Cavs 40-35. Consider that UVa is one of the top rebounding teams around and UNC has struggled and this has to be considered a huge positive.

Jawad Williams - Although he went 23:07 without scoring, Williams still finished with 18 points and an impressive and necessary nine rebounds. He shot only 7-19 from the field, including a poor 2-8 form 3-point range, but still led by example and communication, and played extremely hard. When Williams says he truly doesn't care about stats and is only concerned with winning, one gets the impression he is being genuine.

Damion Grant - Grant gave the Heels 10 quality minutes despite having just one rebound. He blocked a three shots and had a ferocious Brendan Haywood-like slam. The simple fact that he can offer UNC relief up front is encouraging, and if he can eventually get to 15 minutes a game, the Heels will be better and he will develop much quicker.

Byron Sanders - Sanders really does a solid job around the basket, especially offensive tips and keeping the ball alive. He is quick off his feet and fights hard to get near the ball. For the game, he had six points and eight rebounds - numbers the Heels could live with every night - and gained more valuable experience. Considering what UNC fans thought they would get from him, Sanders' time has been pretty positive in May's absence.

Matt Doherty - Coach speak is too common a practice for most college basketball coaches. But Doherty doesn't appear to care much for that approach. He often acknowledges errors or suggests he could have done things different, as he did on Saturday with respect to staying in the zone defense too long in the first half. He justified being in the zone and questioned how one could know UVa would go off as they did over the last few minutes of the half, but he also later said perhaps he should have abandoned it sooner.


Zone defense - Carolina began the game in a zone because Doherty said East Tennessee State had success with it against the Wahoos and that UVa did not shoot well against N.C. State last Sunday. Yet they remained in the zone even though the Hoos got plenty of open perimeter shots. They shot a solid 5-13 from beyond the arc in the first 12 minutes of the game and 3-4 for the rest of the half. For the half they were 8-17, but the damage had been done. The 3-point barrage, and easy baskets they got as a result of UNC focusing so much on the perimeter, led to the 19-2 run that helped bury the Heels. Carolina should have gotten out of the zone sooner. It simply didn't work. Uva shot 57.6% in the first half to just 37.5% in the second. They also were outrebounded 23-14 in the second half as opposed to outboardng the Heels 21-17 in the first 20 minutes.

Zone offense - The Heels were doing fairly well against Virginia's man-to-man defense but once Pete Gillen went into a zone Carolina struggled. As Virginia was exploding on offense, UNC went into a 1-10 drought during the Wahoos' 19-2 run that gave them a 20-point lead before Sanders' layup with two seconds left in the half got Carolina within 18. The Heels didn't get many quality looks and once again had little movement with precious little screening. However, Doherty tweaked the offense in the second half and UNC had more success. But this 6:22 stretch was where the game was won and lost.

Blocked shots - UVa was credited with eight blocked shots, but it sure seemed like the Wahoos had more. The Heels get way too many shots blocked (14 at Miami last week), many of which are nearly-completed layups or dunks.

Field goal % - The Heels had a solid second half putting 42 points on the board in their desperate comeback attempt, but they still shot only 44.7 percent, which is hardly lighting it up. Combined with the first half, Carolina shot only 40.3% from the floor. Much of this can be attributed to offensive struggles against Virginia's zone as well as forced late shots in the second half. But, the bottom line is that 40.3% won't win many games. Also, consider that UNC had 22 second-chance points, so other than those 11 mostly put-backs, UNC had just 18 field goals.

Free throws - The Tar Heels have been unable to put together a quality stretch from the line this season. After shooting well against Davidson, the Heels were just 7-13 (53.8%) at UVa. The Wahoos attempted 16 freebies, so once again Carolina was at the line fewer times than its opponent.

Forcing turnovers - The Heels haven't been forcing enough turnovers lately. They were credited with only two steals on Saturday despite the impressive explosion during the near comeback. The first-half zone certainly kept the numbers down some, but for the Heels to be successful they need to get out in the open court. Forcing more turnovers will provide them more opportunities to get their legs going, which means more easy baskets - making up for some of their half-court woes - and perhaps another victory or two.

Assists - One of the Tar Heels' problems the last month has been inconsistency with their movement away from the ball and passing, which go together. Better movement (see screening) means more open mates to pass to. Better passing (recognizing a mate as he is getting open, not after he's open, which is when the opposition will also likely notice) forces defenses to react often off-balance. Carolina had a measly 11 assists against the Hoos, a number that simply won't cut it.

Rashad McCants - Aside from the previously mentioned positives, there were some negatives. McCants hasn't been consistently aggressive on defense lately. On Saturday, he had no steals and no fouls. Maybe it was his intelligence that kept him from fouling and the steals just didn't come, but perhaps it wasn't.

Defeat - Doherty felt good about his team following the game, and there are many things for him to be positive about, but the Heels still lost for the fifth time in their last nine games - and fifth time in 14 outings this season.

NCAA bubble bound? - With non-conference games left against UConn (this Saturday) and N.C. A&T, and 14 ACC games remaining, the Heels would be 17-13 entering the league's tournament if they split with the Huskies and Aggies and go 7-7 the rest of the way in the ACC. Assuming they lose in the tourney, the Heels will have 14 losses when the NCAA selection committee reviews their record.


The Tar Heels next host Clemson in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on Raycom as the Tigers try to win for the first time ever in Chapel Hill. They are currently 0-48 at UNC.

Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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