No. 18 UNC seeks more than good moments from Meeks, Johnson
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Kennedy Meeks entered a recent film session expecting to see some positive moments for him and fellow big man Brice Johnson for No. 18 North Carolina.
Instead, the sophomore said, he came away a bit discouraged.
”We just need to focus on not taking plays off,” Meeks said Friday, ”because clearly in the film you can see us sometimes walking around, which is pretty embarrassing from a player standpoint – just seeing that we really didn’t give enough effort as we should have.”
That ”tough” film session is a small part in the education of UNC’s talented frontcourt duo. Yes, they’ve had some good moments in their first year in leading roles. Now, with fifth-ranked Louisville visiting on Saturday, coach Roy Williams is pushing them to become consistent performers.
Williams said he wants the two to clean up details, from how hard they post up a defender to the way they set a screen, as part of their development for the Tar Heels (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).
”The first press conference, I said we need a couple of big guys to step up and be consistent, to get their play at a high level and do it consistently,” Williams said. ”That’s still what we’re looking for a little bit. I think they’ve really had some good moments, but they’ve really had some bad moments, too.”
Their stats are up from last year. The 6-foot-9 Meeks, who has shed about 45 pounds since arriving on campus, is second on team in scoring (12.7) while leading the team in rebounding (8.8) and shooting percentage (.586, good for fifth in the league).
The 6-9 Johnson, with a longer and leaner frame, is third on the team in scoring (11.3) and second in rebounding (7.0) while shooting 53 percent. They’re the only two players among UNC’s top rotation shooting better than 50 percent on the season.
They’ll have a tough matchup with preseason Associated Press all-American Montrezl Harrell – a North Carolina native from Tarboro – inside for the Cardinals (14-1, 2-0). And Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Friday he plans to start 6-10 freshman center Chinanu Onuaku to bring some physical play up front.
”They’re a terrific rebounding team,” Pitino said of UNC. ”They’re very good athletes. They’re very good passers. They work the inside very well.”
Both Meeks and Johnson have had some big games, with Meeks tallying six double-doubles and Johnson most notably turning in an 18-point, nine-rebound effort in a win against then-No. 12 Ohio State. And the Tar Heels are 6-1 in games when both players score in double figures, the only loss coming at top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky.
It’s the stretches of ineffective play – sometimes a few possessions, sometimes an entire game – that Williams wants them to eliminate. Look no further than Monday’s 71-70 loss to No. 13 Notre Dame for an example: Meeks played just 17 minutes due to foul trouble and had his fourth foul with 17:19 left, while Johnson finished with nine points on 3-for-11 shooting and played just 11 minutes after halftime.
Another step forward in their games could help the Tar Heels live up to preseason expectations as an ACC title and Final Four contender.
”I think it’s about being aggressive the entire game – not taking any plays off, running the floor, playing good defense, rebounding,” Meeks said. ”It’s everything coming into play.”
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