'Canes look to pull off upset against Tar Heels
While their team has produced a string of decisive victories, North Carolina coach Roy Williams and forward John Henson still see plenty of room for improvement.
After using a late surge to put away their most recent opponent, the third-ranked Tar Heels could use a better performance Tuesday night against Miami, a team that's given them problems over the past couple of seasons.
Since falling at then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3, North Carolina (14-2, 1-0 ACC) has won eight straight - all at home - and prevailed in each of its last six games by at least 15 points. However, that doesn't necessarily mean the Tar Heels have had it easy in every game.
They let Boston College trim a 21-point lead to nine with 9:18 remaining before going on a 22-8 run in a 83-60 victory Saturday and extended its record win streak at the Smith Center to 27 games.
"Sometimes, when we get a good lead, we let up defensively and we just want to run out and score," Henson said. "I think we've got to just play D a little harder, especially when we're up by a lot."
Harrison Barnes scored nine of his 25 points during that key run and Tyler Zeller had eight of his 20.
"(The issues was our) concentration," Williams said. "In league play, you've got to be able to play the whole game for 40 minutes."
If Williams needs a way to illustrate that lesson, all he might need to do is show his team the most recent matchups with Miami (9-5, 0-1). Zeller is likely one player who needs little reminder of how tough it's been against the Hurricanes recently as it was his layup at the buzzer that allowed North Carolina to prevail 61-59 in last year's ACC tournament quarterfinals.
The Tar Heels rallied from a 19-point deficit in the second half of that game, its largest such comeback in 18 years, and needed to overcome an early 14-point hole during a 74-71 win in Coral Gables on Jan. 26.
Barnes, who has 20 or more points in three of his last four games, hit a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left to seal that victory.
North Carolina has won eight straight over the Hurricanes but has taken the last four matchups by a combined 16 points. Two of those games were against Tar Heels squads that were ranked in the top 10.
In its latest game, Miami played tough against another Top 25 opponent, at then-No. 21 Virginia on Saturday, but fell 52-51. Durand Scott had five of his 12 points in the final 2:34 but couldn't convert a layup in the final seconds.
The Hurricanes nearly pulled off the upset with one of their best defensive performances of the season, limiting the Cavaliers to 38.2 percent shooting.
"That's something that we can build upon," coach Jim Larranaga said, "although our next opponent is Carolina and they play entirely different. They are a team that tries to score 100."
Kenny Kadji will try to help his team keep up with the Tar Heels. The 6-foot-11 transfer from Florida has averaged 16.8 points on 60.7 percent shooting over six straight starts and scored a career-high 30 in a 99-89 win over UNC Greensboro on Jan. 2.
Miami, though, might need some more help from leading scorer Malcolm Grant (13.9 ppg), who has averaged 9.4 points on 34.7 percent shooting over the past five contests. The senior guard, who missed a pair of games in December because of a death in the family, will try to make a 3-pointer in a school-record 36th consecutive game.