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January 31, 2010

Heels look for 2nd straight

One game does not a season make, but one game could be the fresh start UNC so desperately needed after losing four of five games before this week.

Tonight at 7:45 against Virginia at the Smith Center, Carolina will find out if its 77-63 victory against the Wolfpack on Tuesday was an aberration or a new beginning.

"What we need right now is wins," said junior Will Graves said. "That is what we need more than anything."

The Cavaliers (12-6, 3-2 in the ACC) are coming off a tough 76-71 overtime loss to Virginia Tech. Otherwise, Virginia has been doing an excellent job under first-year coach Tony Bennett.

While he has certainly scouted and prepared for Virginia, UNC coach Roy Williams' main focus is on his team these days. If he can get this club with so many freshmen and sophomores to play consistently, Carolina could begin to outrun some of its lingering issues.

UNC committed a mere 10 turnovers against the Wolfpack.

"You hope it's a big boost to their confidence," Williams said of the win at N.C. State. "You go back to [a loss at Charleston], we were up 11 points with four minutes to play, and we didn't make plays. The whole season is a journey. Each and every day you have opportunities to learn something.

"Each and every day you have got opportunities to do successful things or fail. You hopefully do the right things, and if you do you benefit, be positive."

Ed Davis should be OK. He sat out at loss to Wake Forest, but returned to make a big difference against the Wolfpack.

Davis had 12 points and nine critical rebounds in Raleigh.

Larry Drew played the way Williams envisioned when he signed the young man out of California to be his point guard. Drew had seven assists, one turnover, 18 points and did an excellent all-around job compared to what he's been doing from game-to-game.

The Carolina (13-7, 2-3) team that won in Raleigh looked visibly different from any of the other versions that have won or lost this season because of how tough the Tar Heels played on defense. N.C. State shot 29 percent in the second half.

"Defensively, we definitely took a giant leap forward," Drew said. "But we have a long ways to go. I just hope we will go do it again."

Drew is to be commended for how he handles himself through all the adversity he's faced. He's taken a lot of criticism (including plenty from this reporter), but he never dodges questions. He is polite, accepts his responsibilities and the outcome of his performances.

If he can play with confidence and stay within himself, he has every chance to be the player Williams saw in high school and on the summer circuit.

But as important as Drew is to this team's eventual success or failure, he does need help from his teammates. This is especially true of senior Deon Thompson. For whatever reason, Thompson had been playing small of late. He played big against the Wolfpack. Thompson performed with energy, enthusiasm and toughness.

He scored 20 points with people in his face, and he grabbed four rebounds, two of which he had to wrestle away in powerful fashion.

The Tar Heels can certainly use that kind of production (and more on the boards) from Thompson every night. Consistency is the key word.

"With Deon being aggressive and playing the way he played, it definitely helped us out," Drew said. "He knocked down the shots and grabbed some offensive rebounds. He had some big offensive rebounds.

"When Deon plays like that, we're going to be very tough to beat."

Graves said he knew Thompson had that kind of performance within him.

"The only difference is it came out," Graves said, smiling.


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