“I'm hopeful that this six-day break before we play again is going to be helpful to us, because I know it's helped us get healthy. After the Clemson game the other night, Justin [Watts] got hurt in the first half and didn't play in the second half. He's not practiced since. Leslie McDonald did not play and hasn't practiced since. But we hope that he will practice today. Reggie Bullock did play and has had some swelling in his knee, so he's not practiced since. But we hope that he will practice today.
“So the injury report, I guess, is the first thing to come out. But I think that we were very fortunate to have this break at this time period with those injuries. Hopefully, we'll have everybody except Justin Watts at practice today. He might be able to go through some dummy offense, but I think that Leslie and Reggie will be able to go, and so we're thankful about that.
“But watching the Miami game against North Carolina State yesterday, it's a 17-point game. And they just started making shot after shot after shot. I'm hopeful they don't do that against us, because the way they played down the stretch was relentless, and we have to make sure we make some shots, and hopefully they don't make as many.”
Coach, I don't think you have another break this season. And you talked last year a lot about how much injuries played a role, and you just referenced a couple of bumps and bruises. How big an impact can that have on the rest of the season - staying healthy?
“It will have a huge impact. It's hard to make changes in the middle of the stream like we had to do consistently last year, and covering up for people and never getting some of them back was really a big blow to us, especially when we thought our depth up front was going to be big for us.
So it's the same kind of thing. I think every team has to be able to go through and be able to absorb some injuries. If you start having injuries to five, six, seven people like we did last year, it's really difficult.
“But, again, this break this week was good for us. We were very lucky that it came at this time period. And, hopefully, as you said, we don't have any of these breaks the rest of the way, so hopefully we won't have anything like we've had the last three or four days.”
You mention Miami's comeback, and Hurricanes coach Frank Haith was talking about how much his team needs a win. Do you ever talk to your team about an opponent who might be desperate for a victory? Does that factor into your preparation?
“Not really in the ACC because every team's dangerous anyway. If it was somebody that you weren't familiar with, and you didn't play very often, and didn't know much about their situation. But in the ACC, everybody's desperate for a win at some point. Once you get into conference play, you know more about them, and playing, and winning games down the stretch is extremely difficult to do, and you've got to make some plays.”
Will Kendall Marshall start at point guard again?
“Yes, unless something weird happens between now and Wednesday night.”
Knowing how long Larry Drew had started for you, and the respect you had for him, how difficult was it for you to make that decision to change that starting job last week?
“It was difficult. I don't enjoy doing that. If you look at my track record over the years, most of the time I get the group that starts and stick with it. And in '06 I took Marcus Ginyard out and inserted Wes Miller in the lineup and that was really big for us. It gave us another outside shooter and got us going. I think we lost two out of three, or three out of four in the ACC and we go down to Florida State the first game and he made a few threes for us. That was big for us.
“I don't do it a lot. But it was hard to do and especially since Larry's trying so hard defensively. But we were just a little stagnant offensively, and he can still get him to be extremely important to us just like he was in the Clemson game.”
You mentioned Reggie Bullock. Can you assess his development at this point and what he's doing well? Especially with everything that's happened with his grandmother passing ago way in the last couple of weeks. How has he responded to that? How have you seen him develop this year?
“I think he responded to that really well because it was a really, really difficult situation for him. And Reggie at times has really been impressive. He hasn't been as consistent as we want him to be, and as he wants to be. Nobody wants it more than he does.
“I think he's going to be a fantastic college player, a guy that's going to to get better and better. He was huge for us in the Clemson game, particularly without Leslie who had been shooting the ball very well from the three-point line for us. And we needed somebody else to step up and do it, and Reggie did. I'm hopeful that this swelling in his knee won't delay his progress, because that should have given him a great deal of confidence to let him know what he can do.
“He's gotten better. He still needs to work on his ball handling and the defensive side of the floor. When he shoots the ball, and defends, and comes up with the steals like he did against Clemson, it's going to be a much better day for us to say the least.”
Looking at the performance against Clemson, your team came out and responded well. Was there any extra added pressure, perhaps, because of all the talk of the 54-game winning streak for all those years?
“You know, people get to choose what they want. But I never one second mentioned that to my entire team. We talked about it after the game. I said, ‘You guys know why this game had any significance because of what our history has been with Clemson?’ And half the guys didn't even know.
“And I'll tell you the truth, I'll never hit another golf ball if this is a lie, I did not mention it one second to our team. Because it's one of those kind of things that's hard to explain, it's hard to understand, and I know some day it's going to end. I'd rather keep putting it off another year kind of thing. But these kids, if they do know something about it, it's not very much.”
Which UNC team do you think we'll see as we go down the stretch that we're going to see more often? The team that played against Kentucky and Clemson or the other team?
“I hope it's the one we saw against Kentucky and Clemson. But there was one half that was just really not typical of our team, and that was the second half at Georgia Tech. Against Minnesota and Vanderbilt and Illinois, those guys haven't lost to very many people anyway. We didn't play that poorly in those games, they had a lot to do with it.
“Now in the second half against Georgia Tech -- I'm not trying to take credit away from Georgia Tech because they made a bunch of shots too -- but we were 5 for 25. That one is not typical, I hope. Let's put it that way, I hope I don't see that one again. But in the preseason I said I thought this team would get better and better as the season progressed. And against Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Illinois at Illinois, those teams were favored to win the game anyway, and they should have been. They had more returning players, more experience, more successful returning players.
“But, for us, I'm hopeful that it will be that kind of team that will continue to get better, and not have that huge hiccup like we did in the second half against Georgia Tech.”
With Harrison Barnes, so much of this game has been dissected and evaluated by people on the outside. What is an area or two when you look at what he's done so far that you see him making the biggest strides so far?
“I think Harrison's gotten better defensively. I think rebounding the ball, if you go back and look at the Clemson game, he came up with two big defensive rebounds at the end. It really helps you to get a stop, but you have to finish the defense by getting the rebound.
“I think he's gotten better in that area, and with each and every game he's understanding more about what we're about. What is a good shot, what's a bad shot, what kind of shots he can take that he can make. And his progression of being tough or willing enough to take a last shot and make it is something that is pretty impressive. I'm hoping that he'll really with each and every game continue this improvement too.”
After the Clemson game you mentioned the possibility of putting Justin Knox and Leslie in the starting lineup in place of Tyler Zeller and Dexter Strickland. Is that still on the table? How do you assess that right now?
“I would say it's not going to happen Wednesday night. We'll just have to see. Right now to be honest with you, I don't even know how much we're going to get out of Leslie today at practice, because he literally has not done any contact work since, I guess, the day before the Clemson game. So we don't know what we're going to get out of him whatsoever.
“And Justin Knox is going to miss practice today because of a class, and he can't get there on Monday afternoon. So it's a little bit of a predicament there. And I was pleased with what ‘Z’ did down the stretch the other night too. I think that part was good for him.”
With Larry going to the reserve role, how do you keep him on board and keep his spirits up when maybe it might get dashed for a little bit?
“I think it'd be human nature for him too to have that kind of problem. But he was great against Clemson. I told him I was proud of him after the game because he was really important to us. Yes, he did not start, and I don't have the stat sheet in front of me, but I think he played more minutes than Kendall did, even not starting. He knows he's going to be important to us.
“Several years ago Marvin Williams did not start one single game. But he was extremely important to us. We won the National Championship. He was the second player taken in the NBA draft. If you're important to the team, that is the most important thing whether you run out there at the start or not. It's not nearly as important to me, but you never can tell what's going through a kid's mind.”