College Basketball: UNC meets N.C. State today

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

By Aaron Beard

Associated Press

RALEIGH — Sidney Lowe is saying the right things, that every game matters and that leading North Carolina State against North Carolina isn’t more important than any other matchup.

Then again, the former Wolfpack point guard really doesn’t need to say any more about his feelings on the rivalry as he prepares to face the Tar Heels for the first time as N.C. State’s coach.

“I don’t like to get into how big of a game it is for me because they all are big for me,” Lowe said Friday. “But I think if people know me and know I’ve played here and I’ve played against Duke and Carolina for four years, I think they know. I don’t think I have to say what these games mean to me.”

The rivalry doesn’t quite have national appeal considering Lowe’s Wolfpack

(12-8, 2-5 ACC) is near the bottom of the league while the third-ranked Tar Heels (20-2, 6-1) have looked unbeatable in their past five games. But around these parts, any matchup involving the ACC’s North Carolina-based “Triangle” schools — Duke is the other — is a big deal.

Saturday’s game is even bigger for Lowe, who is trying to build a program to compete with those national powers just down the road. His first shot at a Triangle rival didn’t go well: Duke cruised to a 79-56 win at the RBC Center two weeks ago.

“I think anytime you have what people consider a rivalry or big game, you should embrace that,” Lowe said. “That should get you pumped up to play. Rest assured, our neighbors down the road, they see it that way. It’s important our kids understand it. It’s part of history they have to understand. Like I told them before, it’s not something I came up with. It’s something that was here way before me.”

The Wolfpack’s lack of recent success against the Tar Heels is a key reason for why Lowe is here at all.

Herb Sendek left N.C. State for Arizona State last season after 10 years marked by steady improvement, yet Wolfpack fans grew discontent with his Princeton-style offense and dismal 8-38 record against Duke and North Carolina.

N.C. State has lost the past six meetings with the Tar Heels, all of them coming since Roy Williams took over at his alma mater before the 2003-04 season. The last meeting — a 95-71 road win by the Tar Heels last February — was particularly irritating for

N.C. State’s fans, many of whom called area sports radio shows the next day saying they had had enough of Sendek.

Williams recruited Lowe to play at North Carolina while he was an assistant to Dean Smith in the late 1970s and later coached teams to prepare for the heady point guard. He sounded impressed with the Wolfpack’s 70-59 upset at No. 16 Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. North Carolina lost its No. 1 ranking earlier this month with a 94-88 road loss to the Hokies, who led by as many as 23 points.

“Coaching against him as a player, you were worried about him and what he did on the court,” Williams said. “Coaching against him as a coach, you worry about how he prepares them and how they’ll completely feel ready to play North Carolina.

“They were outstanding (against Virginia Tech) and did some good things on the road against a big-time team that whacked us about as hard as you can be whacked.”

Lowe, who had spent the previous 15 seasons coaching in the NBA, couldn’t escape the reach of the rivalry even as an assistant with the Detroit Pistons. When Lowe went into his office the day after the last North Carolina-N.C. State game, he found that forward Rasheed Wallace — an ex-Tar Heels star — had left him a reminder of the previous night’s outcome: the letters “U-N-C” in large, blue print on Lowe’s drawing board.

Wallace later ribbed Lowe about the game, though Lowe quipped, “I can’t repeat what he said.”

“I’m not going to say it’s any more important than if we beat someone else in the ACC,” Lowe said, “but it’s a big game.”