When North Carolina enters the RBC Center tonight, it will be about as momentum-free as the team has been in a long time.
Losers of each of their last three games, the Tar Heels dropped out of the top 25 for the first time since Jan. 2006.
And now they might have to hit the road sans Ed Davis once again.
Roy Williams said in a news conference Monday afternoon that unless the sophomore’s injured ankle makes “significant improvement” before the 9 p.m. tip-off against N.C. State, UNC’s best forward will be kept out of a second straight game.
“If the game had been scheduled yesterday, I would not have played him,” Williams said.
“He doesn’t feel good about planting the foot, pushing off and going sideways.”
A depleted frontcourt could mean trouble, as the Tar Heel bigs will have to match up against junior Tracy Smith, who ranks sixth in the league in both scoring and rebounding and is second only to Davis in field goal percentage.
“We know he’s a beast inside,” said freshman Travis Wear, who made his first career start in lieu of Davis Wednesday against Wake Forest.
“We’re just going to have to move our feet and keep him in front of us, and try to keep him out of the paint.”
UNC has had six days of rest after the 13-point loss to the Demon Deacons. They’ve used that time to get in what Wear called the two most intense practices this year.
“At some dadgum time you’ve got to put your foot down and say, ‘I’m going to play better,’” Williams said. “And this ‘Woe is me,’ stuff, you’ve got to put a stop to that.
“I can’t imagine any time I’ve been more involved, more into it, more enthusiastic, critical, vocal, whatever you can say, than I’ve been in practice since last Wednesday.”
Over the weekend, practices have included a 30-minute scrimmage. And when mistakes were made, the players hit the baseline to run.
“Just our competitiveness in practice the last two days,” Wear said. “We’ve just been going at each other’s throats and playing really hard.”
They’ll need to bring the same intensity Tuesday night against a team that Williams said might not be quite as gifted, but is playing more together than in recent years.
And he knows UNC needs to be at its best to climb out of this hole.
“Last year if we played very well, we were going to win,” Williams said. “And if we just played fairly well, we were going to win most of the time.
“Well, we don’t have that luxury right now. But I know we don’t have a chance if we don’t play very well.”
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