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December 22, 2007

Tar Heels Return to Form

CHAPEL HILL - This was more what North Carolina expected its holiday homestand to look like.

After a lackluster effort in a close win against Nicholls State that left the top-ranked Tar Heels shaking their heads in the locker room, they came out with tons more energy to beat UC Santa Barbara 105-70.

"Our guys feel a lot better now," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "They can go home and see Santa Claus and feel much better about it."

Carolina began and ended the first half with big runs that practically put the game out of reach.

If that wasn't enough, the Tar Heels (11-0) scored the first nine points of the second half as well and opened up a 30-point lead less than four minutes into the period.

"That's something we've been working on," said point guard Ty Lawson, who had 15 points and six assists. "You have to take a team's spirit."

Carolina finished the game with a 45-2 advantage in fast-break points, leaving the Gauchos (10-2) huffing and puffing during timeouts.

"We were running, everyone was scoring," Lawson said. "That made everything much better."

The Tar Heels certainly looked like they were having more fun than they did against Nicholls State three days earlier.

As if to prove that point, Tyler Hansbrough turned a steal into a 360-degree breakaway dunk in the opening minutes to fire up his team and the crowd.

But maybe the best moment for fans came when UNC football player Greg Little, who has been practicing with the basketball team, not only saw his first game action but also put the Tar Heels over 100 points with a 3-pointer from the corner.

That certainly put some holiday cheer into his teammates on the bench, who noted afterward that Little has hardly been a sensation in practice, either with his knowledge of the playbook or his shooting touch.

"That (3-pointer) was shocking," Hansbrough said. "But it's a great way for him to start off his basketball career here."

Marcus Ginyard scored a career-high 17 points and has back-to-back double-figure games for the first time since his freshman year.

"It felt like everything was falling into place," Ginyard said.

Williams took Ginyard aside at one point and told him just to be himself, not to worry about his shot.

With five rebounds - three on offense - and an 8-of-10 shooting clip, Ginyard seemed to respond well to the advice.

"Marcus had a big game for us tonight," Hansbrough said. "I think his confidence flowed into his offense."

The Tar Heels had a huge advantage on the glass, thanks in part to Deon Thompson's career-high 12 rebounds.

But more important was UNC's effort on defense.

Against Nicholls State, Carolina had been unable to prevent open 3-pointers.

While UCSB came into this game shooting 66 percent from downtown in its last three contests, Carolina was able to contest far more outside shots than they did against Nicholls State.

The Gauchos were 4 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half and finished 10 for 26 in the game.

Overall, they shot just 35.9 percent.

"The emphasis in practice is no open looks," Hansbrough said. "We didn't give them many opportunities."

The Tar Heels started the game with a 13-2 run, and ended the first half on a 16-6 run to make the lead 52-32 heading into the locker room.

Carolina had eight first-half steals, including four by Lawson, that led to 18 points. A pair of steals midway through the half that led to UNC buckets forced a UCSB timeout and gave the Tar Heels the momentum that helped them build their big lead.

The blowout win ensured the Tar Heels wouldn't end up feeling down after another win.

But Lawson also mentioned another bit of motivation the players had to give their best effort.

"No one wants to see Coach mad."


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