North Carolina-Miami Preview
North Carolina walked off its home floor following a fifth defeat in seven games its last time out feeling outworked and outhustled by a team that played desperately to add a signature win to its postseason resume.
The 15th-ranked Tar Heels hope that scenario doesn't repeat itself Saturday.
North Carolina looks to avoid dropping a fifth straight meeting with Miami, which seeks its fourth victory over a ranked opponent in its pursuit of an NCAA tournament berth.
The Tar Heels (19-9, 9-6 ACC) won seven of their first eight conference games but have been sliding since, most recently falling 58-46 to rival N.C. State on Tuesday. They scored their fewest points ever at the Smith Center and shot 34.5 percent from the field - their second-worst mark of the season.
Kennedy Meeks had 12 points and 14 rebounds and freshman Justin Jackson scored 16, but leading scorer Marcus Paige shot 3 of 8 and finished with seven points.
"We just didn't come to play," Jackson said. "We got beat by a team that wanted it more than we did, and we just didn't come out from the jump ball to match the intensity."
A sense of urgency is something North Carolina likely will have to match against the Hurricanes (18-10, 8-7), whose up-and-down season has them squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
They've won three of four after hanging on to beat Florida State 81-77 on Wednesday. Miami is 3-4 against the AP Top 25 but also has double-digit home losses to Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky and Georgia Tech.
A win over the Tar Heels certainly would help, as would another solid performance from Angel Rodriguez. The senior guard hit 8 of 14 from the field and finished with 25 points against the Seminoles after averaging 8.2 while shooting 21.4 percent over his previous 11.
Coach Jim Larranaga finally was able to convince Rodriguez to speak with Dr. Bob Rotella, and old friend of Larranaga's who has helped many other athletes with personal struggles.
"I didn't give up on myself. I had a great conversation with a new friend I just met," Rodriguez said. "Coaches told me that even though I was going through a tough time, they weren't going to quit on me."
Rodriguez's teammates know it would be a matter of time before he figured things out.
"He's the leader of this team," said Davon Reed, who finished with 18 points. "When we see him knocking down shots and creating for other people, we feed off that."
Paige often has been the driving force behind North Carolina, but he attempted only one shot in the first half Tuesday and is averaging 8.3 points on 34.2 percent shooting over his last four.
Brice Johnson finished with four points after averaging 18.3 over his previous four.
"(Paige is) an emphasis for the other team. We've got to do a better job getting him open," coach Roy Williams said. "Other guys have to step up and make a shot every now and then, too."
Paige went 2 for 15 from the field and scored eight points in North Carolina's 63-57 home loss to Miami on Jan. 8, 2014, in the most recent meeting.
The Hurricanes have won the last four matchups with the Tar Heels after dropping the previous 10.