It’s been a week since North Carolina last played a basketball game, an eight-point loss to Kentucky in Chicago.
The Tar Heels had plenty of time in the gym, just to focus on their next opponent, Davidson. The Wildcats came into the Smith Center with a 9-3 record, and plenty of respect from UNC head coach Roy Williams, who had nothing but kind words for Davidson head coach Bob McKillop.
But the Tar Heels, coming off that Kentucky game, had to find some answers. Asked what this week of practice was like for his team, Williams kept it simple as possible.
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“Just getting better,” Williams said. “I know its corny, but it’s the truth. We talked about we have to get better as a basketball team. We’re not as good as I want us to be, that’s the biggest thing.”
Williams said preparing for Davidson meant preparing for a team that gets 47 percent of its offense from 3s. On the Wildcats’ first possession of the game UNC forced a shot-clock violation. Carolina senior Cam Johnson, who scored a game-high 17 points, said that did two things -- showed the players that what they worked on all week would work, and set the tone defensively.
“It did (set the tone) for the defense,” Johnson said. “I thought the coaches did a good job of preparing us for what (Davidson) wanted to do. I think in that first possession it showed that we knew what they were trying to do -- the way they cut, the way they move. They do what they do well when they play at their pace, so to get that shot-clock violation was huge.”
During this “corny” week, defense wasn’t the only focus. The Tar Heels spent time working on team goals, and one of them was to come out with more effort.
Sterling Manley, who contributed five points and four rebounds off the bench, said Kentucky had more effort last week in Chicago and there was no excuse for that. Manley said he can live with missed shots, but can’t stomach being outplayed.
Giving effort everyday in practice was the top priority for the Tar Heels, who had more pep in their step defensively against Davidson and forced 13 turnovers that led to 15 points.
“We just really emphasized not just going through the motions on defense,” Manley said. “Not just going through plays and stuff and really doing it with a purpose and just being energetic in what we are doing and not just going through the motions. When you go through the motions in practice you do it on the court and that’s when you get beat.”
The defense set the tone early for the Heels, but Davidson didn’t back down and took a 24-19 lead in the first half. The Tar Heels outscored the Wildcats 63-36 the rest of the way, with several mini-runs. Once UNC took the lead, 25-24, after a Garrison Brooks layup, they never trailed again, closing the first half on a 20-4 run.
“Coach said as long we get better every day, we will be OK,” Brooks said. “I guess we put that in perspective. We just tried to get better everyday.”
Brooks said the practices leading up to Davidson included not only more intensity, but a higher level of focus. And that focus was limited to the action on the floor. Brooks said the Heels put more focus on everything from stretching to being prepared before a play even starts. Brooks said that translated to the game.
“It was a higher level of energy,” Brooks said. “Shots weren’t falling in the beginning, but I felt like we played hard.”
Sitting a few feet away, energy was the same word freshman Coby White used to describe this week and preparing for the Wildcats.
“Coming off a loss, we all had one common goal and that was to get better,” White said. “Coach wants us to get better and we were just trying to do that each and every day.”