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January 24, 2012The N.C. State team that will play Carolina on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Center will be far and away the best Wolfpack club UNC has seen in many years.
Five Wolfpack players are averaging in double figures in scoring. Scott Wood, a 6-foot-6 forward from Indiana, leads the team in scoring with an average of 13.8 points per game.
What is really impressive is that Wood has made all 48 free throws he has attempted this season and has a string of 58 consecutive free throws made, dating back to last season.
"He's just having a heck of a run here," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "I think it is 58 in a row from the foul line. That is just a phenomenal run. When you have a guy who is shooting the ball from the foul line the way Scott is, if you foul him it's just like giving him a layup. It's just automatic.
"And he's really shooting the ball well from the 3-point line. He's probably shooting 45, 46 percent from the 3-point line. So he does cause you some major problems. You have to adjust your game."
Scott is shooting 45.3 percent (53-117) from 3-point range.
Sophomore forward C.J. Leslie is second in scoring at 12.8 per game, followed by Lorenzo Brown at 12.4, C.J. Williams at 12 and Richard Howell at 11.9.
Such balance is not an accident, first year Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said.
"Scott is a terrific shooter," Gottfried said. "He's running the floor better. He's defending better. With our team, it's not so much we try to get the ball to one particular guy.
"The games that we have had, it just has gone to him more lately. I think all of our starters are very capable."
Howell leads the Wolfpack in rebounding with an average of 9.4 per game, while Brown is second in the league in assists at 6.9 per game compared to Carolina's Kendall Marshall at 9.5.
"I think Lorenzo Brown is doing a great job of distributing the basketball," Williams said. "They are a much more balanced team than they have been in the past. I've always thought it was harder to guard a team when all five guys could score."
There are many areas in which the Wolfpack has improved immensely from the past several years. N.C. State is second in the league in assists as a team at 17.4 per game compared to the Tar Heels' lead at 18.4.
The Wolfpack is third in scoring at 76.9 points per game compared to the league-leading Tar Heels at 85.1.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, are coming off their best performance of the season with their second half play in an 82-68 victory at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. Unfortunately, Carolina also suffered its biggest loss of the season when starting shooting guard and backup point guard Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury.
"It was a big-time loss for us," Williams said. "He was our best perimeter defender. He gave us some minutes as the backup point guard. He would really run to help our break."
This will be the first full game without Strickland. Reggie Bullock will start at shooting guard with P.J. Hairston serving as Bullock's backup.
The overwhelming question is how will UNC deal with Strickland's absence as the backup point?
"We're going to give Stilman [White] some time there," Williams said. "We're going to try to do a little more work on the passing game, not having a true point guard and see how that works. We've got to find a way to give Kendall a little bit of a break each half.
"Dexter has been giving us three minutes or so each half at the point guard spot," Williams said. "Kendall has played the rest. We've got to find a way to give Kendall a little bit of a break each half."