December 25, 2014

Even though its offense has disappeared at times, North Carolina has generally been able to rely on one of the country's stingiest defenses.

The 20th-ranked Tar Heels appear well equipped to avoid a second upset loss to UAB in as many seasons on Saturday.

North Carolina (8-3) had poor offensive performances in two of its losses, shooting a combined 32.8 percent against Butler and Iowa. The Tar Heels shot 45.0 percent Dec. 13 at Kentucky and weren't able to keep up with the top-ranked Wildcats in an 84-70 loss.

They've made their mark defensively, however, holding opponents to 35.5 percent shooting, including 26.3 from 3-point range. They limited then-No. 12 Ohio State to a 25-for-72 performance in last Saturday's 82-74 win in Chicago. The Buckeyes came in shooting 53.7 percent on the season but finished 10.2 points below their average.

"That's one of the best defenses in the country, and you look at the size, you're going to have to make some tough shots in order to beat those guys just in terms of their length," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.

Coach Roy Williams found other faults in his team's play, particularly at the free throw line and the fact it let an 18-point second-half lead shrink to seven. North Carolina was 15 of 25 from the stripe while being outscored 43-39 in the final 20 minutes.

"I don't hear the happy song in my ears right now. We stunk it up down the stretch," Williams said, "and I think we've got to get better there."

The up-and-down shooting by preseason All-American Marcus Paige has been one of the biggest reasons for the Tar Heels' offensive inconsistency. He had 16 points versus Ohio State but was 4 for 12 from the field. He has shot 31.8 percent in UNC's losses.

"I've never seen Marcus Paige miss as many open shots as he had in the second half, and two layups," Williams said. "But I still think that says a lot about how good we can be, because eventually he's going to start really playing."

North Carolina hopes Paige, who is shooting 34.2 percent from 3-point range, can catch fire down the stretch the way he did last season when he shot 42.0 percent from deep in his final 18 games as a sophomore.

The Tar Heels lead the series 3-1 but lost 63-59 at UAB on Dec. 1, 2013. Paige scored 13 points, but he was 0 for 6 from beyond the arc.

The Blazers had 21 offensive rebounds to help compensate for a 19-for-62 shooting performance. Chad Frazier, who is no longer with the team, scored a team-high 25 points.

A similar result doesn't appear likely in Chapel Hill, where North Carolina is 89-4 in regular-season non-conference games under Williams. UAB has dropped 22 in a row on the road against ranked opponents since a 65-52 win at then-No. 20 Marquette on Jan. 7, 1998.

The Blazers (4-8) own a lackluster resume with their only Division-I wins coming against Jackson State, Morehead State and UNC-Asheville, which are a combined 10-28. They also defeated Division-II Young Harris College.

UAB is shooting 40.9 percent on the season after going 22 for 60 (36.7 percent) in an 83-67 loss at Chattanooga on Monday.

The Tar Heels will likely key on Robert Brown, who is the only UAB player averaging double figures with 13.6 points per game.

Blazers coach Jerod Haase spent 13 years working under Williams, including nine at North Carolina.

You May Like