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Cavaliers, Tar Heels Represent New-Look ACC

Jan 17, 2010 – 1:00 PM
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Jim Henry

Jim Henry %BloggerTitle%

Yes Virginia, it's true. And very cool, too. The Cavaliers are 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time since 1994-95, when they started 4-0.

And for those who hold the North Carolina Tar Heels close to their hearts, a group hug might be in order. Saturday's home loss to Georgia Tech marked the fifth time this season the Tar Heels faced a deficit of 18 points ore greater. Four of those occasions have come in the first half.

Life never seems easy -- but is always interesting -- for men's basketball teams along Tobacco Road.

"I'm not used to coaching [Kansas] Jayhawk basketball or Tar Heel basketball without any confidence," UNC coach Roy Williams lamented after his team tumbled to Georgia Tech, 73-71, to drop to 1-2 in the ACC and 12-6 overall.

"We've put ourselves in this spot and we've got to figure out a way to get out of it. We can go belly up but I choose not to do that and I told them that in the locker room. We have a Special Olympics clinic (Sunday) and we'll do a great job with that and then have a great practice on Monday and try to get better."

UNC will need to get better in a hurry, welcoming Wake Forest to Chapel Hill, N.C., for an ESPN game Wednesday night. The Demon Deacons might be at a disadvantage since they face a difficult two-step in a four-day span. Wake Forest tangles with Duke Sunday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Of course, the Tar Heels have problems of their own. UNC has dropped two games in a row and three of its last four ACC games.

On Saturday, Zachery Peacock made the go-ahead shot with 25.7 seconds left to rescue the No. 20 Yellow Jackets, who blew a 20-point first-half lead against the No. 12 Tar Heels before holding on for their first win at UNC since 1996.

"In the ACC people don't give you wins, in the ACC you have to play, you have to take things, you have to compete, and you have to compete with your brain," Williams said.

It might be a head-scratcher, but the Tar Heels seem to know exactly what's wrong and where their hesitancy and lack of confidence originated.

UNC dropped difficult road games at Kentucky and Texas, currently the nation's top-ranked team, but what remained of its fragile psyche was lost in an overtime defeat at the College of Charleston on Jan. 4. Since then, almost everything that could go wrong, has – including the loss of sophomore center Tyler Zeller to a stress fracture in his foot.

"In the Charleston game everything that could go wrong did go wrong," Williams said.

"A guy dribbles the ball off his foot, it bounces back to another guy, he passes it to another guy, and he makes the toughest three I've ever seen anybody make in terms of being guarded. We didn't execute in that game and that shook us more than anything."

Williams says he doesn't have a magical formula that will snap the Tar Heels from their funk.

After opening the game against the Yellow Jackets "so tentative and tight early on it was unbelievable," according to Williams, UNC and Tech traded the lead seven times in the final 4 1/2 minutes but Peacock saved the day for the Yellow Jackets.

"I could kill (former UNC All-American center) Tyler Hansbrough and he didn't care because he thought he was better than you today, tomorrow, next month, next year, and if you came back in the second half he thought he was going to beat you then too. We've got to work on things and we've got to concentrate better.

"I don't think I can get out Doc Allen's book or Coach Smith's book and find any secrets, but we're just going to have to work at it."

Virginia, meanwhile, has a good thing working.

Sylven Landesberg scored 18 points and the Cavs won their seventh straight game and remained the only unbeaten team in the ACC with a 75-57 victory against No. 23 Miami on Saturday night.

The Cavaliers (11-4, 3-0 ACC) improved to 3-0 against ranked teams and are off to their best start in the league in 15 years, holding the Hurricanes to 31.5 percent shooting and finally pulling them away in the final minutes.

"I think they are a year older and a little more mature, and they're hungry with good character," UVA coach Tony Bennett said of his team's turnaround from last season.

"They want to do well. Our first two games in the ACC (against N.C. State and Georgia Tech), you go to that point and it could have gone either way. Again, I thought we won the x-factor, the hustle factor that's so important. ... We play in 40 hours and I told them good win, good start, stay humble and lets just keep trying to get after it. (Sunday) we will take a look at what we need to do to get better."

The Cavs, who are at home Monday against UNC-Wilmington, have done a nice job of taking care of the basketball. They had just nine turnovers Saturday, their 10th game this season with 10 or fewer turnovers.

UVA also turned in one of its best opening 20 minutes of the season against the Hurricanes before an energized home crowd of 11,413, building a 33-21 advantage. Miami, which fell behind Virginia Tech by as many as 35 points (48-13) in the first half on Wednesday, missed its first nine shots and made only 5 of 23.

Of course, the Cavs also closed nicely, too. Their 18-point victory was their most lopsided win over a ranked opponent since a 78-60 win over No. 10 Arizona at University Hall on Nov. 21, 2004.

"I liked the first half," Bennett said.

"I thought we were active, I thought we were hard to score against. We rebounded well. When they made shots, it was some at the line in the first half and they had to earn everything they got and I thought it was solid. I think it was one of our better halves for sure."

Virginia looks to push its league record to 4-0 at Wake Forest on Saturday.

"The rest of the country is finding out what we knew from the beginning," Cavaliers center Jerome Meyinsse told the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch.

And that is?

"There is some fire here at Virginia," he said.
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