Roy Williams Still Searching For How to Get UNC Playing Hard, Smart and Together Consistently

Brant Wilkerson-New

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Roy Williams stared down at the stat sheet and shook his head as the reality of what had just happened was becoming reality.

His words were soft and slow as he went down the list of where North Carolina had gone wrong yet again, in what’s become a too-familiar postgame conversation this season.

Too many missed free throws. Too many 3-point attempts. Too many free throws on the other end.

Then he got to the one that really drove home where the Tar Heels stand after losing 56-47 at Virginia on Sunday afternoon.

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“We had one assist at halftime — one assist,” he said. “That’s not the way that, hopefully, I’m trying to coach for 32 years, but that’s the way we’re playing right now, so I’ve got to get it changed.”

Following Wednesday’s 74-49 debacle against Ohio State, the Tar Heels have now been held to fewer than 50 points in consecutive games for the first time since the 1947-48 season — before Dean Smith had even played his first game at Kansas.

It was Smith who coined the phrase, “Play hard, play smart, play together,” at Carolina, and right now, the Tar Heels aren’t doing any of the three consistently.

“It’s the most frustrated I’ve ever been,” Williams said.

Those issues were evident again on Sunday as the Tar Heels hit 17 of 46 field goal attempts, dropping to 304 nationally in effective field goal percentage. Currently, Carolina ranks 300 in 3-point percentage 274 in 2-point percentage and 312 in free throw percentage.

Obviously, making shots is a big part of the offensive equation, but right now, there are bigger issues.

‘It goes beyond that,” guard Cole Anthony said. “We’ve got to get those shots, first. We’ve got to work hard on being more sound as a team.”

Carolina’s ineffective transition play is putting too much weight on Anthony in the halfcourt offense, and with few creators on the roster, Williams believes he’s pressing after the freshman scored 12 points on 4/15 shooting with four rebounds, zero assists and six turnovers.

“He’s frustrated,” Williams said. “He’s been our most gifted player … he’s trying to do too much. Driving too much when it’s too crowded … Got to get him more help, got to get the ball inside so we can be more balanced.”

Big man Armando Bacot, who surprised everyone by returning from a sprained ankle to return to the lineup, said the rest of the Carolina offense has to do more.

“Cole, he’s trying his hardest,” he said. “We’re kind of just stagnant watching Cole.”

Facing the nation’s best defense on Sunday, Carolina was forced to grind out nearly every basket, with just six assists on 17 buckets — a certain recipe for disaster against a Virginia team that thrives on forcing jumpers.

Forcing the shots it wanted, Virginia was able to win the rebounding battle 37-32 and held Carolina to just nine second-chance points while keeping the Tar Heels from effectively running on missed shots as the Cavaliers grabbed 11 offensive rebounds of their own.

In a game where points and good offensive looks came at a premium, Carolina fouled Virginia on 3-point attempts three times, gifting eight points at the free throw line.

"I'm beside myself,” Williams said. “I've gotten to be the worst coach I can ever remember. We're doing some of the most unbelievable things of any team I've ever had."

Asked whether everyone was putting in the amount of work required to fix things and if everyone was on the same page, Anthony had an interesting reply.

"I don't know about that,” he said, “But if these past two games aren't a wake-up call for everyone on the team, I don't know what else is."

Two wins from tying his mentor, Smith, in all-time coaching victories, Williams finds himself in a spot he’s never experienced as he tries to get his team to play hard, play smart and play together for 40 minutes, every time out.

“I don’t think we’re playing basketball the way I want us to play,” he said. “That’s probably the most frustrating thing. Pushing the pace, sharing the ball, competing like crazy.

“I’ve been very fortunate over the years that I’ve been able to find the right buttons to push to get guys to do that,” and I haven’t found the right buttons to push to get these guys to do it that way.”

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