At A Loss

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- How desperate was North Carolina's coaching staff at halftime Sunday night? Roy Williams changed from wearing sneakers, which were part of a promotional deal for Coaches Against Cancer, and put on his usual dress shoes. It didn't work.

The Tar Heels only trailed by five points at halftime, but clearly weren't playing well. All the switch did was precede a Cavaliers' 18-2 run to start the second half in a 75-60 UVa victory that was easier than the score indicates.

You can't sugarcoat how poorly UNC played. It was awful in every facet of the game. Carolina was 2002 bad.

Remember how the second half at N.C. State last week seemed like a convergence of UNC's attributes working in unison? This was the polar opposite.

Maybe in hindsight, now that Carolina has fallen to 13-8 overall and 2-4 in the ACC, the staff should have gone barefoot.

"Roy Williams has been awfully lucky his entire life," the worn down looking Carolina coach said. "Things have been very smooth, and right now they're not, and I have to do a better job with my team than what I'm doing right now."

Williams has spoken repeatedly this season about his players not getting it. Aside from a decent performance here and there, nothing has worked.

That's why the changing of the shoes at halftime is the perfect metaphor for this team. Maybe Williams – the owner of two national titles in the last five years and curator of seven Final Four teams – has run out of answers and options. Maybe he's simply at a loss.

His increasingly fragile team usually doesn't respond well to opponents' runs, often playing as if they expect the dam to eventually break. Subbing five new players doesn't work like it used to, and getting mad no longer appears to result in much change.

Ol' Roy will eventually place among the top coaches of all time, and he will win big again at UNC before his days are done, but he is dealing with an animal he hasn't faced before.

His first Carolina team had some internal issues, but those regarded personalities, and he won a national title with them. This problem is different, and serves more like a disease or fungus that just might be anchoring down UNC's development.

Marcus Ginyard wasn't shocked by Sunday's loss because he said poor practices have routinely led to losses, and the Heels practiced poorly in recent days. Think about it, a fifth-year senior who has won a ton of games wasn't shocked UNC got trounced at home by Virginia.

When Deon Thompson was asked if it was fair to characterize the Heels as a team that doesn't get ticked off when it falls behind, he replied, "Yes."

So why doesn't UNC have anyone that gets so supremely unnerved that they infuse the others with anger, energy and an intensity streak necessary to dig out of deepening holes? Heck, why not Thompson and Ginyard? They've cut down plenty of nets and know what it's like to reach that high.

Thompson says he's tried.

"You still do it, but guys have to respond," he said. "Even if you get mad, it still is on their part to respond to what you say. It's a two-way street."

Thompson is a smart, articulate young man. He knows what he's saying.

But it isn't just Thompson. Will Graves added to his veteran teammate's words.

"I really do get pissed off, but I can't dump anything…," he said, choosing his words carefully. "There needs to be more intensity. I can't jump in anyone else's body and do it for them, we all have to just do it ourselves."

Changing shoes or blazers or ties or hairstyles won't affect future performances. And maybe running through the offense at practice, working on defense like kneading doe, or having players run tours won't cut it at this point either.

Perhaps the problem is within, and maybe it's deeper than anyone imagined.

"My gosh, how can we go any lower?" Williams asked. "Be honest, how can it be any worse than it is right now?"

If there's a disconnect, it can get worse. If this was more a simple case of frustrated veterans spouting off a little, a turnaround can still happen.

At this time, however, nobody really knows the answer.

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