UNC-UConn: The Good & Bad

The lessons continued on Saturday for North Carolina's basketball team as the Tar Heels built a 19-point lead on No. 6 Connecticut before holding off the Huskies, even after blowing the lead, to notch a crucial 68-65 win at the Dean Smith Center.

Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's 11th win in 16 games.

GOOD

Rashad McCants - McCants' hot shooting (7-11, including 4-5 on 3-pointers), and intensity helped lead UNC's explosion out of the gate that saw the Heels lead 13-0 and 23-4. He did have six rebounds and had a couple of key assists, but also turned the ball over six times. However, his energy, which resurfaced for the Clemson game, is a huge plus for this team.

Jawad Williams - Williams did an excellent job on both ends of the floor, and once again provided tremendous leadership. He finished with just 10 points and five rebounds, but his floor game was excellent, plus he hit the game-winning jumper. And as the 6-foot-9 sophomore pointed out, lessons learned from the Miami loss made this win possible.

Raymond Felton - Felton was a true general on the floor. He had five turnovers, but also dished out seven assists and had 11 gritty points. He kept challenging UConn's interior with penetration, especially when UNC ran the shot clock down. His defense continues to get better, and shouldn't be overlooked in this game. He also registered three steals.

Byron Sanders - Sanders didn't grab a rebound and had just one field goal (and four free throws), but he did a great job on Emeka Okafor, one of the nation's top rebounders, shot blockers and scorers, and probably a lottery pick in the NBA draft if he chooses to come out next summer. Sanders held him to an extremely hard earned 13 points and seven rebounds, of which just two were on the offensive end. Sanders has many skills to develop, but his heart and effort should never be questioned.

Jackie Manuel - Manuel is a great defensive player and is becoming a quality rebounder on both ends of the floor. He had some huge defensive boards and had three steals, not to mention his usual stellar defense. Although the West Palm Beach, Fla. native sometimes makes beautiful passes (usually near the basket) and can slash occasionally to the hole, his offense is still a concern. He tries to do too much and doesn't play within his skills enough. It's up to the coaching staff at some point to identify these issues with him.

David Noel - Noel played just seven minutes but made two huge 3s in the second half and finished with seven points.

3-point shooting - Carolina was a sizzling 47.4 percent (9-19) from beyond the arc. McCants was 4-5, Felton 2-4, Melvin Scott 1-4, and Noel 2-2. Shooting well from the perimeter will help offset an abundance of turnovers.

No jitters - Williams said he wasn't nervous when UConn took its only lead at 65-64 with 1:16 left and neither were his mates. With some ACC teams having only played a couple of true road games and very few quality opponents, the Heels have been through the ringer numerous times and are already battle tested, even for a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. They weren't affected by the Huskies' brief lead, which may be why they won.

Building character - Wins like this, as well as the victory over Clemson, display character that is built not only in wins, but losses, like the defeat at Virginia. UNC has played well for five straight halves dating back to the second half in Charlottesville, a game that may have triggered this positive path. Considering what they have been through, especially losing their only true quality post player (Sean May) during an ugly loss that could have derailed the season, it's a testament to the players they continue to fight, and for beating such a notable opponent.

Matt Doherty - Doherty may concern some with personnel decisions and an in-game decision every game, but there is no way anyone can sit back and say he can't coach. Taking into account UNC's current situation regarding no Sean May, their overall youth, fighting back after tough losses, and dealing with the swarm of rumors surrounding the program, of which some are at least somewhat true, it's truly remarkable they not only won, but are in position to have a very nice season if they maintain their energy and focus. Unbiased eyes will recognize the job Doherty has done.

Crowd - The sellout crowd of 21,750 was terrific, one of the best this scribe has experienced regardless of the arena and matchup. They fillled the arena, were very loud, and did a terrific job sensing moments. If only the Dean Dome could be like this more often.

NCAAs - After last week's loss at Virginia it appeared as if a trip to the NCAA tournament was more than a monumental task for the Tar Heels. While it remains a difficult goal to reach, UNC's chances got a little better with this win. They now own victories over Kansas and Stanford on neutral sites, at St. John's, and at home against the Huskies. Also throw in the overall difficulty of Carolina's schedule, and an 8-8 ACC record will get them into the NCAAs with ease.

BAD

Blown lead - As Doherty said after the game, it wasn't really a matter of if UConn would make a run, but when they'd make one. Carolina was up 23-4 nearly 10 minutes into the game, but the Huskies chipped away at the deficit, and finally took their only lead, 65-64 with 1:16 left in the game.

Considering the opponent, losing the lead was somewhat understandable, but at the same time, they still lost a huge lead.

Another ugly stretch - The Tar Heels had another ugly stretch on Saturday, going 6:43 without a field goal, from 12:46 left (Manuel fast-break layup) to the 6:03 mark (McCants layup). During this stretch the Heels went from leading 51-40 to being up only 59-54 after McCants' layup.

Turnovers - UNC turned the ball over 18 times and had just 14 assists. Many of the turnovers were the result of pushing the ball too much, and players taking the ball to the hole without a clear idea of what to do. McCants had six turnovers and Felton had five. But in Felton's defense, he doesn't always get help from mates when he is tied up. This team does a poor job of helping out a troubled mate. They need to come to the ball more often.

Blocked shots - Once again Carolina had way too many shots around the basket blocked. Granted they were facing the nation's leading shot-blocker, but to constantly have layups and even dunks rejected is something that must be improved. The Huskies registered eight blocks, six of which were by Okafor.

Bench - The bench collectively played just 30 minutes, with Melvin Scott getting just 13. UNC needs for its bench to be trusted to provide more minutes if they are to become an NCAA team. And Scott has to be the accurate shooter his role requires if he wants more minutes. Overall, the bench totaled only 10 points, three rebounds and no assists.

Late slowdown - It remains a mystery as to why Doherty had the Heels slow things down after the final TV timeout of the first half. UConn was playing well, but the Heels were still maintaining margin. Did he do this to shorten the game and get to the locker room with as few possessions for the Huskies as possible? Perhaps, and in hindsight that wasn't such a bad strategy. But at the time it was a major risk. The slowdown hasn't worked in the past, and in many respects, didn't work on Saturday. Carolina rarely gets off a quality shot when they run the clock down, usually relying on a Felton shot that starts with his back to the basket or a feeble attempt in the lane amongst a bunch of trees.

Late free throws - The Tar Heels had a stretch from the 10:27 left point to the 3:18 mark where they were a horrid 6-14 from the charity stripe. They did hit their final three, but had they shot better from the line Ben Gordon's last-second shot wouldn't have mattered. For the game UNC was 21-30 (70 percent).

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels remain at home and host defending national champion Maryland on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.


Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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