On a night early in the season when four North Carolina men’s basketball players had double-digit point totals and 10 of 16 players scored, Roy Williams wasn’t too concerned with the offense.
As the 16th-year UNC head coach took a seat at the podium after a 90-72 win over Stanford, he didn’t wait for the first question from the media to give his assessment of the Tar Heel's defense. He just launched right into it.
"You guys don't have to ask questions,” Williams said. "Because it's frustrating to me. It's not the kind of game we wanted to play. That's not the way we wanted to guard people.”
In the midst of a victory that wasn’t ever all that close, Williams had nearly the opposite feeling of most fans after the win. It’s early in the season, and UNC is far from the meat of the year when it’ll face tough ACC foes, including Duke and Virginia. There’s plenty of time for the team to figure out how to work together and how its pieces work to create a staunch defense. But that didn't matter to Williams.
On Monday night, he noted his team has had one of the worst defenses in the country so far this season.
“How many Division 1 teams are there?” Williams asked. “It used to be 351. (Assistant coach) Brad Frederick told me there are more than that now. We're close to 351."
The No. 7 team in the country let up in the second half, and that’s what aggravated Williams the most.
“They thought we did a decent job in the first half,” said graduate guard Cameron Johnson, who shot 7-11 for 17 points. “The second half was not how we needed to play. They beat us in the second half and Coach is definitely upset about it, and so are we.”
UNC took a double-digit lead less than 10 minutes into the game, then held Stanford to 26 points at the break. The Tar Heels took control of the game, due in part to defensive rebounds that helped give the team a 24-11 margin on the glass by halftime.
Coming out of halftime, UNC held a comfortable 26 point lead. Though the lead didn’t drop permanently into the teens until the last four minutes of the game, it was after halftime that the Tar Heels reminded Williams just how much progress his team needs.
After keeping Stanford from a single attempted free throw in the first half, the Cardinal shot 15 free throws to finish out the game. As the game neared a close, they whittled at the deficit until they trailed by nearly 10 points less than they did at halftime.
Williams’ team forced 15 turnovers out of its opponent, but he let his players have it in the locker room. Senior forward Luke Maye said Williams told them their performance wouldn't cut it.
"If we want to be really good like we say, we've got to have a lot more pride defensively," Williams said. "We didn't have very much pride defensively."
The Tar Heels pulled up at the end and came out of halftime with the victory already well in hand. Maye described the play that followed as "lackadaisical." Kenny Williams characterized the play in another way.
“Man, we’ve just got to guard the ball better,” he said. “Our energy in the second half was nonexistent. You guys saw it. We were a little more lively in the first half. In the second, they did just whatever they wanted to do.”
After a 3-0 start to the season, the Tar Heels will have time to address the early struggles on defense. Their coach will almost assuredly remind them of it with more biting criticism in practice over the coming weeks.
“It was frustrating and yet I finally just said in the locker room, 'I’m going to shut up and not say more until I see the tape,’" Roy Williams said. “Then I might say a lot more, maybe I am wrong. Who knows?”
Though the season may be young, even in a win, Roy Williams thinks his team ought to feel blessed about that.
“Thank goodness it’s a long season,” he said. “I would be a terrible football coach if we had to wait a week before we played again.”
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