Hours after a subpar performance against Syracuse just over a week ago, Caleb Love stood alone in the Smith Center looking for answers.
The first-year stood a few feet in front of the basket form shooting, well after the bell had rung to signal midnight.
Entering the season as the heralded five-star point guard who was expected to halt UNC’s struggles from a year ago, Love simply wasn’t getting it done. His sub-30 percent shooting clip wasn’t helping anybody, so he decided to help himself.
A subtle gesture? Sure. But after back-to-back strong performances have him averaging 15.5 points on near-50 percent shooting in his last two games, those small gestures and adjustments have clearly made a big difference on himself and the Tar Heels.
In Wednesday night’s 80-73 win over Wake Forest, Love looked every bit like the elite guard he is capable of being. He led the Tar Heels with a career-high 20 points while comfortably scoring at all three levels.
Coming into the season, one of Love’s strengths was his athleticism, which he showed in all phases in the victory. Late in the second half, when the Demon Deacons started to close the gap, Love ran the fast break and threw down two ferocious dunks to put the nail in the coffin.
“I know that when I play above the rim, my teammates get hyped and it gets the game flowing, which brings energy to the team,” Love said.
Although his slump never masked his physical gifts, it was clear that the mental aspect of the game seemed to be getting to the first-year guard. To get himself over the hump, Love turned to a new technique his mom suggested.
“I use the Calm app and meditate every morning and night to keep me sane and keep my head on straight," he said. “Being in a slump brought me a lot of stress, so it has helped me a lot.”
In addition to using mediation to ready himself for games, Love mentioned how the support system he has from his teammates and inner circle has been superb. Sophomore forward Armando Bacot is one player who has made an impact, given his similar experiences as a first-year last season.
“I was in a slump my first year, and I told him to just be him and play like he did all summer because I think he can be one of the best guards in the country if he plays like this all the time,” Bacot said.
While Love’s shooting numbers were poor across the board, they were especially poor from three-point range, as he was knocking down just 18 percent from beyond the arc before his recent uptick. Over the last two games, he has gone 5-9 from deep, giving the Tar Heels a much-needed boost from the perimeter.
Although the numbers haven’t been in Love's favor for much of the season, head coach Roy Williams knows the foundations of a great shooter exist in his young playmaker.
“When we do the shooting drills, Kerwin (Walton) usually beats him, but the second guy on the team is either him or Andrew (Platek),” Williams said.
Although Love’s improved shooting numbers have directly benefited the team, this skill has also allowed other parts of his game to open up, a quintessential trait for a well-rounded point guard.
Now past the midway point in the regular season, the Tar Heels will look to solidify themselves as an NCAA Tournament team and work their way off of the dreaded bubble. For the Tar Heels to reach the ceiling they believe they are capable of reaching, Love's development will be key.
“The game is not all about scoring," Love said. "You also have defense and making other players better, and as a point guard I have to lead. But once the scoring is there, my whole game will show.”
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