Following No. 24 North Carolina’s 82-69 loss to Wake Forest on Wednesday — the team’s third straight defeat — coach Roy Williams made it clear that he’s seen his team experience a losing streak this bad before.
Just not in 16 years.
“I don’t give a darn about what’s going on. I’m going to coach my rear end off,” Williams said of UNC’s recent slide. “It’s up to them to come along with me. It’s almost, almost completely new territory.”
That year, all the way back in 1994, a Williams-led Kansas team dropped three in a row down the stretch in February. The only other year a Williams team has struggled so much was during the 1988-89 season, when the Jayhawks lost eight games in a row during his first season at the helm of the program.
Team viewings of “Hoosiers” and “Rocky III” were a few of the gimmicks and motivational ploys Williams tried to put an end to that losing streak, but he said he hasn’t tried any tricks like those to inspire this year’s Tar Heels (12-7, 1-3 ACC).
At least not yet.
“I didn’t give them a long speech after the game. I told them, ‘We have no chance if we fold. We have no chance if we give in,’” Williams said. “We’re going to try to keep working every single day and someway, somehow, try to find a way to fight out of it.”
UNC’s latest loss will almost certainly drop it out of the AP top 25 for the first time since the 2005-06 season, when a freshman named Tyler Hansbrough was getting his first taste of college basketball.
And just like that season, replacing key cogs on a national championship team has proven bumpy.
Without NBA draft picks Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, UNC has dropped to last in the ACC in turnover margin and scoring defense.
North Carolina is also near the bottom of the conference in 3-pointers made, leading only Wake Forest. UNC averages 4.9 triples per game, down from 6.9 a season ago.
Of course, struggles to begin conference play are nothing new to UNC’s veterans. The Tar Heels fell in their first two ACC games last season before rattling off 10 straight conference victories.
“Just continue to work, continue to fight. That’s all you can do. You can’t just give in because you lose a couple games,” senior forward Deon Thompson said. “It’s a rough patch, and the storm doesn’t last forever. Definitely tomorrow the sun’s going to come up, and we’re going to continue to work.”
UNC has a few days off before its next game, a Jan. 26 date at N.C. State, and will get a boost from forward Ed Davis’ expected return to the starting lineup. Davis was sidelined against Wake Forest with a sprained ankle.
North Carolina’s five freshmen will also have some time to recover and learn from their first experiences against ACC opponents.
And while Williams said he will continue to work on execution with his players this week, the Tar Heels hope to forget about their lack of it the past few weeks and regain their confidence.
“Coach admires Tiger Woods,” Will Graves said. “Tiger Woods is always on to the next shot and is on the next play.”
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