DeCock: As No. 1 Indiana looms, Roy Williams questions UNC's toughness

ldecock@newsobserver.comNovember 27, 2012 

Butler North Carolina Basketball

North Carolina forward Desmond Hubert, left, Butler center Andrew Smith (44) and Butler forward Khyle Marshall, right, compete for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Maui Invitational on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

EUGENE TANNER — AP

— With a freshman point guard, a backcourt coming back from serious knee injuries, a go-to player who did very little last year and a couple freshman big men, Roy Williams knew this North Carolina team was going to be unpredictable.

He knew it wasn’t going to get to the free-throw line as much as his teams usually do, and he knew it was going to be more reliant on 3-point shooting than usual. He knew to expect just about anything and everything.

He never expected his team to be soft.

Williams didn’t use that word exactly, but he was clearly unhappy Monday about the lack of toughness the Tar Heels showed in the loss to Butler last Tuesday in Maui. Youth is no excuse for that, especially with a visit to No. 1 Indiana looming Tuesday night.

“As a coach, you don’t like to be surprised, especially in a negative way like that, but I was really surprised,” Williams said. “We just didn’t have that intensity. … I was pleased because of our toughness in a tough situation at Long Beach and I thought it would carry over, and it didn’t carry over the way it has in the past.”

So six games into the season, Williams used the weekend to “work the dickens” out of the Tar Heels, still as perplexed as he was angry.

The message was clear: Toughen up.

“I look at it as, not punishment, but something to make us better,” Dexter Strickland said of the “very intense” practices.

As Williams put it, the Tar Heels have beaten all the teams they were supposed to beat and lost to the one team, Butler, with a good shot to beat North Carolina – a concerning state of affairs given the Tar Heels’ next game, which for these learning-on-the-job freshmen will be a particularly rude awakening.

Strickland, a senior guard who has played in a few hostile environments in his career, said they’re going to be shocked.

“Those guys have no clue what type of atmosphere it’s going to be (Tuesday),” Strickland said. “I think we’re ready for it. As a team, we have enough focus to just go out there and execute what coach wants.”

Strickland said the Tar Heels underestimated Butler, but that shouldn’t be a problem against the Hoosiers. It’s going to be a stiff test, a good barometer of whether the Tar Heels learned anything from the loss to Butler – which was the more physical, more energetic team, jumping out to a 29-point lead before holding on for the win.

“We’d set a screen and they’d run through it,” Williams said. “They’d set a screen and we’d stop and start calling for mama. … We just weren’t physical enough. We’d put a body on them, and they’d knock us out of the way, and not illegally. It was just that they wanted the basketball more than we did.

“And then they would box us out and we would stop. They would make an extra pass and we would stand there. We would make an extra pass, and they would make the extra move to get there. It was more of a physical toughness.”

There will be no room for error in any area of the game against Indiana and certainly no calling for mama. It’s time for the Tar Heels to toughen up, and no better time to show they have.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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