Tar Heels looking for increased sense of urgency

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UVA game

When Hubert Davis played North Carolina basketball from 1988-92, there was a feeling that he had to work hard — that he couldn’t let down the program, or worse, coach Dean Smith.

That’s what Davis, one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA and UNC history, used as motivation. And that was all he needed.

In his second year as an assistant on coach Roy Williams’ staff, Davis has found that he needs to prod his players more than he needed to be prodded. He’s seen them rise to the occasion against top-ranked foes, but he’s also seen them fall to 1-4 in the ACC, losing again in Charlottesville, Va., Monday night.

A season of struggles

Here are some of the low points of the UNC men’s basketball team’s 2013-2014 season thus far:

*After losing to Virginia Monday, UNC is 1-4 in the ACC for the first time since the 2001-02 season. It is also the worst start in 10 years under coach Roy Williams.

*When ranked this season the Tar Heels fell to unranked Belmont, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas.

*Guard Leslie McDonald missed the first nine games due to NCAA violations, and UNC did not apply for P.J. Hairston’s reinstatement.

The Tar Heels (11-7, 1-4 ACC) are off to their worst ACC start ever under Williams, and with conference play in full swing, they’re entering dangerous territory. If there’s a time for urgency, the time is now.

“One of the things coming into coaching — I thought we would never have to coach or talk about playing with a sense of urgency. I think that should be automatic,” said Davis, who filled in for a traveling Williams in his radio show Tuesday.

“I have a chance to compete, I have a chance to play basketball, I have a chance to play on the Smith Center floor, I have a chance to put on that uniform — a sense of urgency comes with that.”

Davis said he thinks the Tar Heels are beginning to understand the need for that kind of mentality. They showed it in the beginning of the year, in wins against Louisville and Michigan State, and Davis said that gives the coaching staff confidence the team can turn its season around, beginning Sunday against Clemson.

“I think at the beginning of the year from a defensive standpoint, I felt like we were more locked in,” Davis said. “I felt our urgency that we brought defensively was really at a high level.”

That kind of defensive intensity, particularly when it leads to turnovers, can fuel UNC’s fast-break offense.

The Tar Heels have had difficulty scoring of late, troubled by a lack of second-chance opportunities. Part of the problem could be sophomore Marcus Paige’s shift from an off-ball guard back to point guard, where he’s tried to balance scoring with the duties that come with running the point. UNC has experimented with bigger lineup configurations, which Davis said he liked — especially with James Michael McAdoo playing the three. But those lineups limit UNC at the perimeter.

There may not be a clear-cut solution to UNC’s woes — but the UNC coaching staff is no doubt searching.

“It’s very hard for me to recover after a loss,” Davis said.

“A lot of people today are saying, ‘What’s the feeling like after losing to Virginia?’ I feel horrible. I’m still not over losing against Miami in the ACC Championship last year. I’m not over losing to Duke. I’m not over losing to Kansas last year.”

But he is over losing.

sports@dailytarheel.com

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