For a month, North Carolina coach Roy Williams received his education about his team on a six-city tour, with tutorials being held in such places as Cameron Indoor Stadium, Lawrence Joel Coliseum and the Leon County Civic Center, the site of one of North Carolina’s most embarrassing losses ever a year ago.
Williams could sum up what he learned about his team in one word: toughness. And he saw it in his team when it returned home to earn an 85-61 win against Virginia.
“I believe that eight-game stretch was very good for us — six of them on the road, including the last three all against quality opponents. You’re never satisfied, we’d like to go 8-0, but it would take a really, really good team to do better than what my club did,” said Williams of his team, which went 6-2. “I think that is one area that we are vastly improved over last year.”
Heading into a Jan. 15 contest at Wake Forest, Williams’ Tar Heels had played just two true road games, both wins against mediocre Indiana and Virginia Tech teams.
After last season, in which North Carolina was just 2-6 in ACC road games, the big question surrounding a team that many were picking to cut down the nets in St. Louis in April was how well the coach’s impressive collection of talent would hold up away from the Smith Center.
The Tar Heels earned four road wins, with the two defeats coming in the gyms of a pair of top-10 teams, Wake Forest and Duke. But Williams’ squad also picked up solid wins at Connecticut and at Florida State — where they blew a 24-point lead last season — to go along with a 34-point demolition of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“We’ve had to overcome some adversities, overcome some injuries, sicknesses, health problems, anything else you want to name, and it’s definitely been key to this team’s success that other guys have been able to step up when other guys are down,” said junior David Noel. “I think last year, where we were lacking toughness, we would’ve folded and this year our toughness has gave us confidence and a little swagger about us.”
For the first time since the season opener, in which the Tar Heels lost to Santa Clara without point guard Raymond Felton, the team had to play minus an important contributor. Sixth man Marvin Williams was forced to sit out with an injured left toe, which he banged up at the beginning of Sunday’s UConn. game.
“Everybody played a lot more and played well – Sean (May) had another big game as usual,” said Williams, who had swapped his left dress shoe after the game to a Timberland boot to relieve the pain in his foot. “I feel like we get tougher every day through practicing and playing games. The ACC’s such a tough league, it always helps your toughness.”