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Heels work to heighten focus

Eddy Landreth

By Eddy Landreth

Staff Writer

If North Carolina finishes with any part of first place in the final regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference standings, the Tar Heels will surely have earned it.

The seventh-ranked Tar Heels entered this week 23-4, 10-2 in the ACC. They had to travel to N.C. State on Tuesday night.

Saturday they will travel to Virginia, which is never an easy place for UNC to play. Then they finish the season against Maryland at home and at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke.
Coach Roy Williams said one of the keys to success in such a difficult stretch is not to consider the standings or what is happening with anyone else.

“I told our guys, ‘Let’s take care of our own business,’” Williams said, ‘“and not worry or be concerned about what everybody else is doing.’

“I don’t want our guys looking ahead and then all of a sudden you skip somebody and it comes back to bite you.”

This means “do not think ahead to the tournaments that lay just ahead.”

“All we can do is take care of the teams in front of us,” point guard Kendall Marshall said. “If we take care of those, we’re going to be in pretty good seeding.”

Marshall was talking about seeding for the ACC Tournament, which will be held in Atlanta this year. The more important seeding will be where Carolina starts in the NCAA Tournament. Given the number of good teams this season as compared to the recent past, Carolina needs every win it can get.

To get there, the Tar Heels will need to shoot the ball a little better and continue to improve in the two areas that have carried this team.

“We’ve been a good defensive team and a good rebounding team, and I’d like for us to become a very good defensive team and a very good rebounding team,” Williams said.

The Tar Heels have gotten better and better at grabbing rebounds. They led the nation coming into this week with a rebounding margin against opponents of 11.6 per game.

They have been especially effective at grabbing offensive rebounds, which has been vital because this team has not shot the ball particularly well. The fact that they are second in the nation in scoring at 82.8 points per game and first in the ACC shows how well they have hit the offensive boards.
In a recent victory at Miami, the Tar Heels out-rebounded the Hurricanes 46-40, but 24 of UNC’s rebounds came on the offensive end.

Carolina shot the ball better in a 74-52 victory against Clemson, so there were not as many rebounds to get. Nonetheless, they still grabbed 11 offensive boards, and 16 of their points came off those rebounds.

Williams would not mind seeing that become a pattern – having his team shoot a better percentage so it will not have to put back so many shots to score.

“There is no question I would like for us to shoot it better from the outside and get better balance,” Williams said. “But the biggest thing is we have to get healthier and stay healthy.

“You never make a good run at the end of the year unless you’re healthy. For us, we’re shortening our practices to give the guys fresh legs and maybe do it for them mentally as well.”

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