Watts throws away Wolfpack's chances
ATLANTA — Justin Watts plays in every game for
North Carolina, but he's almost never mentioned when observers discuss the Tar
After all, the senior is ninth on the team in scoring and averages 6.2 minutes
per contest. When your roster is full of future millionaires, players such as
Watts generally go unnoticed.
Injuries and foul trouble, however, necessitated the use of Watts more than
usual Saturday. In UNC's 69-67 victory Saturday over NC State in the ACC semifinals,
he played a key role in helping the Tar Heels overcome an array of obstacles in
advancing to the title game.
Despite standing just 6-foot-4, Watts went from playing power forward one time
he was on the floor to running the point over the final four minutes of the
first half, a stretch in which the Tar Heels outscored the Wolfpack 11-9.
Teammate and Tar Heels leading scorer Harrison Barnes likes to joke that Watts
is the only player in the nation that can play any position on the floor. He
also said Watts is the cagiest guy on the squad.
That caginess shined through when Watts made what UNC coach Roy Williams called
"the biggest play of the game."
The Wolfpack charged down the court after UNC took the lead with eight seconds
remaining. Scott Wood rifled a pass into the lane from the left wing. The ball
went to Watts, whose momentum was carrying him out of bounds.
The Durham, NC, native then chucked the ball toward the other baseline, eating
nearly the rest of the game clock. NC State caught the ball and called timeout
with 1.2 seconds left, but couldn't convert on the ensuing inbound.
"I didn't think he was going to throw it right to me," Watts
explained. "I thought I was going to deflect it. But once I caught it, I
was running out of bounds, I really didn't know what to do with it so I just
threw it to the other end to try to save time and was hoping it would be 0:0
when (the ball) came down."
It was the little things that boosted the Tar Heels on Saturday. Little things
as far as recognition goes. But in reality, the grit, awareness and stepping up
that Watts displayed was a common thread in Carolina's win.
Freshman James Michael McAdoo was forced to start because ACC Defensive Player
of the Year John Henson was out with a wrist injury suffered in Friday’s quarterfinal
win. McAdoo picked up his fourth foul with 17:40 remaining, forcing UNC even
more out of its norm. Plus, Tyler Zeller, the ACC Player of the Year, fouled
out with 1:08 remaining.
Keep in mind, UNC (29-4) was already without starting guard Dexter Strickland,
who went down for the season on Jan. 19, and Leslie McDonald, whom it expected
to play big minutes but is also out for the season.
In fact, in one second-half stretch, Carolina used a lineup of Watts, Reggie
Bullock, seldom-used freshman Desmond Hubert, McAdoo and Barnes. Only Barnes
was a starter on opening night. This wasn't exactly a group dripping with
"We've never had that before," said Barnes when asked if that group
has ever practiced together. "It's one of those things you adjust to on
the fly. I think everyone stepped up in unusual circumstances."
Unusual circumstances have piled up in recent months for the Tar Heels. Their
ability to battle through them have this Carolina bunch much stronger
mentally than the group that lost at UNLV in November or the one that was
manhandled at Florida State by 33 points in January.
Those embarrassments and overcoming other forms of adversity have brought this
team together. It’s more than capable of winning a lunch-pail affair now as it
is a race-horse one. It takes a great deal of pride in the former.
That's because of players such as Watts and the intestinal fortitude that
drives this team. It's an overlooked attribute, as it's not a skill or a
statistic. But anyone doubting Carolina in that department simply hasn’t been