“Needless to say we feel a heck of a lot better than we did Wednesday night,” Roy Williams said. “I talked a great deal about getting that bad taste out of my mouth.”
The Tar Heels (20-3), which have had at least four players score in double figures in their past 17 contests, got balanced scoring from leaders Jawad Williams (17 pts), Sean May (16 pts, 13 reb), Raymond Felton (16 pts, 10 ast) and Rashad McCants (15 pts).
Exactly one month before NCAA Selection Sunday, UNC picked up a key road win against a quality opponent. After the game, UConn coach Jim Calhoun questioned his team’s mental toughness, while Williams spoke of Carolina’s resilience and ability to bounce back.
“I liked our competitiveness and our composure down the stretch,” Roy Willams said. “Sean May was important to us. I thought Raymond Felton was really big for us in the second half as well.”
Three times in the second half against the Blue Devils, UNC fought back from a significant deficit and tied the score – only to fall quickly behind again.
But versus UConn, the Tar Heels held on to their lead after falling behind and then twice repelled serious comeback attempts by the Huskies. UConn (15-6), minus junior Rashad Anderson, jumped ahead 24-17 in the first half. But Carolina answered with a 12-4 run over the next 3:10 led by three straight jumpers by Jawad Williams – two were from three-point range. Then, in a game featuring 10 lead changes, Jawad Williams’ third and McCants’ first three-pointers put the Tar Heels up for good, 64-54, with 7:52 left in the game.
The Huskies would battle back and get within four late, only to see UNC score eight straight down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
“They’re a really terrific team,” Calhoun said. “They’re a team that can win a national championship. Their execution was impeccable.”
As is becoming more and more evident, the Tar Heels must be able to stretch their legs in order to perform like one of the country’s elite teams. After managing just one fast break basket, which didn’t come until the final minutes, against the Blue Devils, UNC’s 13 steals, 13 fast break points and 19 total assists on Sunday were statistics more reflective of the game Roy Williams wants to play.
“We can run up and down the court really fast, we can throw great passes for dunks and make three-point shots; but you have to be tough,” he said.
Williams said prior to the game that this might be the toughest challenge in the paint his team has faced all year. But the Tar Heels' big men were equal to the task, holding Charlie Villanueva to two points –- 11.3 under his season average. The Huskies did out-rebound Carolina 49-37 and block a season-high 16 shots –- many coming because the mixed officiating crew from the Big East and ACC were letting them play. However, Jawad Williams, Sean May and Marvin Williams combined on 16-of-37 shooting as UNC got off 12 more shots than UConn.
“This is the biggest team we’ve ever faced and the biggest team I’ve ever seen,” McCants said. “We knew they were going to block a lot of shots and we knew we were going to get fouled a lot. It wasn’t a pretty game at all.”
After playing six of its last eight on the road, Carolina returns home to begin a more favorable portion of its schedule. Next up for the Tar Heels are home match-ups against Virginia and Clemson, on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively.