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February 15, 2012

Heels calm the storm

The crowd at Miami's arena chanted Austin Rivers, alluding to the Duke freshman who hit a last-second shot to defeat UNC recently, and the Tar Heels tossed enough bricks from the perimeter to build a small house.

Nonetheless, neither the taunting nor the errant shooting could keep a tough bunch of Tar Heels from defeating Miami 73-64 in Coral Gables on Wednesday.

"It was one of those wins you have to have if you want to have a great year," Coach Roy Williams said. "It was a tough win; it was an ugly win in some ways."

In recent games -- and in practice -- the Tar Heels' jump shooting has deteriorated to near non-existence.

North Carolina went 1-of-10 from 3-point range in this past Saturday's victory against Virginia. Their 5-of-18 performance against the Hurricanes improved at a rate of a 100-year-old man walks two flights of stairs.

They were better than the 10-percent success rate against the Cavaliers, but only at 27.8 percent.

Williams continues to insistent this team will shoot the ball well at some point.

"I told the guys in the locker room, when we start making some shots we're going to be a really good basketball team," Williams said.

"This is the third road game in a row that we shot less than 40 percent [from the field] and still won," he said. "We made a couple of big ones in the second half. Harrison [Barnes] got it going quite a bit. Reggie [Bullock] made a huge 3 for us across from our bench on a set play. I really do believe we are good shooters. We just don't show it during games."

One would find it difficult to argue with the notion that this team would be extraordinarily difficult to beat if the Tar Heels can start shooting at least 35 to 38 percent from 3-point range.

What one could argue is that there has been little proof over the length of this season so far to indicate the Tar Heels will suddenly begin to shoot the ball well from the perimeter.

Right now the best shot for Carolina is to get the ball on the glass so one of its persistent rebounders can put it back for two points.

"We just have to step up and make shots," Williams said. "I got mad at P.J. one time and said, 'Step up and make a dadgum shot.' If you're a great shooter, you ought to be able to shoot the ball in games, in practice and out in the back yard when the wind is blowing.

"I still think we're going to make them, and I think we're going to show it, but we have to do it."

While fans and much of the media will probably focus on the poor perimeter shooting, the real story of this game is just how tough this team has become on defense and in rebounding.

Carolina held the Hurricanes to 29-percent shooting in the second half, while out-rebounding Miami 42-33 for the game. Twenty of those boards came on the offensive glass.

"We would like to think we are a great rebounding team," Williams said. "We cut down on some of their second-shot opportunities after halftime."

There is another aspect to this team's developing story. That is the way it appears to be learning from its mistakes and getting tougher each night. No, it does not win with picture-perfect basketball.

But few teams can play near perfection while handling the difficulty and pressure of the postseason.

This team has a legitimate chance to make the Final Four or even win the national championship.

And it appears if it does survive, advance and eventually become a champion, it will do so on a foundation of determination, toughness, defense and rebounding.

"To have a chance to be one of those teams still playing well at the end of the year, you're not going to win every game pretty and shoot 55 percent," Williams said. "I think it's a huge benefit to win games ugly."


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