Strickland's quote the least of Pack's worries

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJanuary 26, 2013 

N.C. State's Mark Gottfried huddles with his team including C.J. Leslie (5), Scott Wood (15), T.J. Warren (24), Lorenzo Brown (2) and Richard Howell (1) during the second half of Wake Forest's 86-84 victory over N.C. State at Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C. Tuesday, January 22, 2013.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Dexter Strickland’s opinion is the least of N.C. State’s worries.

The Wolfpack players saw the preseason comments by the North Carolina senior guard but enters Saturday night’s game (7 p.m., ESPN) against the Tar Heels, with more immediate concerns after losing two of their past three games.

N.C. State’s veteran quartet of Richard Howell, Scott Wood, C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown all agreed to an extent with Strickland, who said in October that N.C. State is "the least of our worries."

Winners talk and losers walk, the saying goes, and no one understands that better the Wolfpack seniors, who are winless in seven games against the Heels.

"They have the right to say whatever they want, I haven’t beaten them in four years, so they can say whatever they want until we get that win," Wood said.

UNC beat N.C. State three times last season, by 19 points in Chapel Hill, by 12 in Raleigh and by 2 in Atlanta in the ACC tournament. There was nearly an historic fourth meeting, in the Round of 8 in the NCAA tournament, but N.C. State lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16.

Of UNC’s 19 wins in 20 games under coach Roy Williams, the 69-67 victory in the ACC tournament semifinals was the closest since Williams’ first game in the rivalry, a 68-66 win in Chapel Hill during the 2003-04 season.

N.C. State has lost 13 consecutive games to Williams since former coach Sidney Lowe beat UNC for the first time, 83-79 in Raleigh on Feb. 2, 2007.

Even history has taken a back seat in the three-day buildup for the game, which comes on the 100th anniversary of their first game and will be the 223rd between the schools.

The intensity of the rivalry and the hype from ESPN’s GameDay crew will take care of itself, Howell said. N.C. State just needs to worry about N.C. State.

The No. 18 Wolfpack had a team meeting Thursday to straighten out, as Brown put it, the "nonsense" within the program over the past three games. Since beating No. 1 Duke on Jan. 12, N.C. State has lost at Maryland (51-50), barely beat Clemson at home (66-62) and lost at Wake Forest (86-84).

The collapse at Wake – State led by 16 in the first half – was particularly alarming on the defensive end. The Wolfpack gave up 51 points in the second half, a point second-year coach Mark Gottfried said was covered in Thursday’s meeting.

"We didn’t play nearly as well defensively as we could or should have," Gottfried said. "It’s a myriad of things that didn’t happen in the first half and really hasn’t happened a lot of times this year."

While N.C. State (15-4, 4-2 ACC) has stumbled since a 3-0 start in the league, UNC has surged. The Tar Heels have won three straight since an 0-2 ACC start.

"We know they’re playing their best basketball right now," Brown said. "We were a little lacking the last couple of games but, as of (Thursday), I think everybody’s back on their feet."

Saturday night’s game — the first between a ranked N.C. State team and unranked UNC team since Jan. 20, 1990 — is the Wolfpack’s chance to prove Brown correct. There’s also the matter of proving Strickland wrong.

"Best of luck to him," Howell said. "He can talk, if that’s what they want to do, if that’s their game and that’s how they want to approach it, that’s fine but we’re going to go out and we’re going to hoop."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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