UNC plays No. 9 Villanova in the NCAA Tournament’s second round, tip-off at 7:20 p.m.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams made it clear on Tuesday that he was surprised at his Tar Heels’ (24-10) No. 8 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
But the coach of the Tar Heels’ first round opponent, Villanova’s Jay Wright, was also slightly disappointed — for a different reason.
“That is an area we have struggled all year, is defending the 3-point line,” Wright said Thursday. “So, of course, this is the way it works. Who do you get in the NCAA Tournament? The only Carolina team that ever has relied strictly on a 3-point line. That’s the way it works.”
The Wildcats (20-13) rank 294th out of 345 college basketball teams in defending the 3-point shot. They give up on average more than seven shots from deep, and opponents are connecting on more than 36 percent of long-range attempts.
Those numbers play right into the hands of the Tar Heels, who are making about 7.5 3-pointers a game this season, with that number on the rise since adding sophomore guard P.J. Hairston to the starting lineup. In the ACC Tournament, UNC made 30 shots from deep in three games.
And senior guard Dexter Strickland is hoping that the Tar Heels can replicate that long-range success in tonight’s game, which is scheduled to tip off at 7:20 p.m.
“With us having a small lineup,” Strickland said, “it allows the floor to be more spaced out, allowing myself, Marcus, to drop to the basket, find our great shooters, who are Reggie (Bullock), Leslie (McDonald), and P.J.”
But Williams doesn’t want his team to get too wrapped up in those numbers — as enticing as they may be — because the Wildcats have shown this season that they can be an efficient defensive squad.
“The first part of the Marquette game, they were so good defensively it was ridiculous,” Williams said. “That’s the thing that jumped out about that right there — how good they were defensively.”
Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono said the Wildcats had worked on slowing down UNC’s perimeter attack Thursday afternoon in practice and for the past couple of days.
Wright conceded that his players have struggled on defense at times, but he said that they have the right gameplan — it’s just a matter of sticking to it.
“We feel like we’ve got a good scheme. We just feel like we have not executed it through the year … Transition defense, defending their 3s, is really important,” Wright said. “I think this will be as good a 3-point shooting team as we’ve played all year.”
The Tar Heels hope to prove Wright right, and Bullock said that given the way the team has been playing lately, UNC may do just that.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now as a team,” Bullock said. “Everybody has confidence in each other. We’ve grown as a team by every game. We’re just listening and doing the things that coach wants us to do. So we’re growing as a team right now.”
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