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December 18, 2010
GREENSBORO --Defense, rebounding and consistency.
The lack of those three traits cost North Carolina the game in a 78-76 loss to Texas at the Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday.
UNC made a run to take a 33-32 halftime lead, mainly by driving to the basket. UNC eventually stretched the lead out in the second half, but defensive failures with the game on the line let Texas slip ahead near the end.
Did the Tar Heels get better, as far as looking at the team in the greater scheme of things? Coach Roy Williams said that that is not the issue at hand.
"I hope I'm not sitting here in April talking about growth," Williams said. "We have to start playing better."
Texas jumped on the Tar Heels early in the game when the Longhorns displayed far more ruggedness on the interior and overall execution. The Longhorns had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half and shot 52.9 percent in the second half.
"They really hurt us badly rebounding the ball," Williams said. "We did a really poor job defensively. I said it at the first of the year and I'll be saying until I go to my grave, I think we're a team that is going to get better and better. But the first 12 minutes of the game today we went backwards.
"Then a stretch of three or four minutes defensively in the second half we went backward."
This was also one of those games in which the lack of a total player at the point hurt. Larry Drew eventually stopped the Longhorns from scoring on the pick-and-roll, but Kendall Marshall was far superior scoring and running the team on offense.
The fact that Williams cannot - and may not - be able to get both from a single player might eventually be the single biggest detriment to this team.
On the flip side, Dexter Strickland played one of his finest games since coming to Carolina. He did make a mistake by leaving his feet in trying to defend the jump shot by Texas guard Cory Joseph that turned into the game-winning points.
Strickland went 6-of-10 from the field, 5-of-6 from the free-throw line and led the Tar Heels with 18 points. He also had three assists and no turnovers.
"Dexter has a toughness about him that is really important to us," Williams said. "The toughness and aggressiveness that he has, the more he gets to channel that he's going to get better and better."
There are plenty of ways this team has to improve offensively, such as Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson making more of the shots they take from five feet and within.
But for this team to win these kinds of games, finish high in the ACC standings and return to the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels absolutely must become a consistent team defensively.
Carolina blocked just shots and Texas only committed 11 turnovers. UNC is not loaded with great long-range shooters. The Tar Heels must get more points on the break, and the only way to do this consistently is play strong defense and rebound.
If and when Carolina can do those things with consistency is when the Tar Heels will win these kind of games once again.