Without getting into specifics, T.J. Warren summed up the general bleakness of N.C. States track record at North Carolina.
Asked about N.C. States last win in Chapel Hill, the N.C. State sophomore forward said: It has been awhile.
N.C. States last win in Chapel Hill? 2003.
N.C. States last win over Roy Williams in Chapel Hill? Never.
The Wolfpack (14-7, 4-4 ACC) makes another trip to UNC (13-7, 3-4) on Saturday afternoon with both teams on the uptick and playing better after slow starts in ACC play.
The Tar Heels have won three of four since an 0-3 ACC start. N.C. State has won three straight since a 35-point loss at Duke on Jan. 18.
For the Wolfpack to build on the confidence of its recent winning streak it will have to overcome history, both recent and not-so-recent.
The Wolfpack is 0-10 at the Smith Center since a 75-67 win over Matt Dohertys last UNC team on Feb. 25, 2003.
The problems go back farther than Williams, who takes particular delight in beating the Wolfpack (hes 20-2 with the Tar Heels).
Warrens dad, Tony, played guard for N.C. State. Going back to his last season, 1978-79, the Wolfpack is 4-30 in Chapel Hill (and 22-72 all-time). The final season for Warrens dad, by the way, coincided with Williams first season as an assistant coach under Dean Smith.
T.J. Warren, who leads the ACC scoring, said this N.C. State team cant worry about the past.
We want to go in there and get a win; thats our goal, Warren said. Were going to go in there with the mentality that were going to get a win.
For this seasons version of N.C. State and UNC, Saturdays game is a chance to take stock of where both teams are. Its also an opportunity for both teams to move farther away from where they were.
Heels doing everything better
For just the second time, the Tar Heels lost their first three ACC games. They built some confidence with a victory against Boston College, took a step backward against Virginia but since have put together their first league winning streak.
There are some numbers that have defined UNCs recent ascent. The Tar Heels are shooting better than before. Theyre taking better advantage of second-chance scoring opportunities. Late in the victory at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, UNC one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country even shot free throws well.
Individually, James Michael McAdoo, the junior forward, has been at his best. Hes shooting 60 percent in UNCs past five games, and he has complemented his play with emotional leadership that UNC had been lacking.
I think the biggest thing has probably just been on both ends of the floor five guys playing together, McAdoo said, explaining UNCs improvement since an 0-3 start. And really buying into everything coach is saying, but also having each others backs out there on the defensive end and really just holding each other accountable.
To Williams, though, his teams improved play can be traced to one thing.
I feel like I should (say) something else, but I think its just that weve played with a greater sense of urgency, he said. I really do.
Williams later listed the conference games the Tar Heels have lost. Wake Forest played harder, he said. And so did Miami. And Virginia. In the other defeat, at Syracuse, UNC scored just 45 points its lowest total since a 45-44 victory against N.C. State at Reynolds Coliseum in 1997.
Before this season, UNCs 1996-97 team was the only one in school history to start 0-3 in the ACC. UNCs first conference victory that season came at the Smith Center against N.C. State. It was a victory that ignited a turnaround, and UNC went to the Final Four.
Its impossible to predict what a victory Saturday against the Wolfpack might do for the Tar Heels, but its easier to define the potential significance. UNC would be .500 in the ACC for the first time this season, and under Williams it would still be undefeated at home against N.C. State.
I always have appreciated the rivalry, Williams said. Ive enjoyed it. But I think it is a big rivalry. It probably means more to me than the typical North Carolina fan. Its just because of the closeness and some buddies that were North Carolina State students when I was in school here. It was a personal thing.
But again, if that had any effect on tomorrows game, I would be even more appreciative of (UNCs dominance).
Yet another victory against the Wolfpack might carry even more significance for the Tar Heels, even if some of their fans and players dont have the same appreciation as Williams for the rivalry.
Its just another basketball game just like Boston College, Virginia Tech, UAB, McAdoo said. We want to beat them just as bad as they want to beat us.
Pack peaking at right time
The first ACC game against UNC has always been a mile-marker for N.C. State. This trip is no different for the Wolfpack, which moved up to No. 57 in the RPI after its best win of the season (over No. 32 Florida State on Wednesday).
N.C. States confidence has grown with each ACC win. The FSU win evened the Packs ACC record at 4-4. The confidence from the past three wins has helped put a pair of earlier 30-point losses, to Virginia and Duke, in the rearview mirror.
A little bit, but you have to definitely remember that they are there because that could easily happen any game in this league, freshman forward Kyle Washington said.
Washington said the Pack learned from the Virginia and Duke losses.
If we didnt, then wed have a problem, Washington said.
Third-year coach Mark Gottfried has been particularly pleased with his teams resilience and spirit. The variety of contributions, from a variety of sources, during the winning streak also has been a key.
Guard Tyler Lewis, who has 10 assists and one turnover in the past two games, has been important, especially after the Pack turned the ball over 21 times at Duke.
Guard Ralston Turners jumper he has eight 3-pointers the past three games has helped open some space for Warren and Desmond Lee.
Washington has provided a spark with his mid-range game and defense.
It has been a group effort, said senior forward Jordan Vandenberg, who had a key block in overtime against Georgia Tech.
To Gottfried, the most important part has been his young team has gotten better since the start of ACC play. Thats what he wanted to see and hopes to continue to see.
Weve got to play the way weve been playing, Gottfried said.