It’s UNC’s offense vs. WSU’s defense
By Bret Strelow
CHARLOTTE ó North Carolina coach Roy Williams settled the score even though, to this day, he’s not supportive of it.
A point-related criticism has regained relevance because top-seeded UNC (34-2) will face fourth-seeded Washington State, coached by Tony Bennett, in an East Regional semifinal starting tonight at 7:27 p.m. inside Bobcats Arena.
The Cougars (26-8) play similarly to the teams Bennett’s father, Dick, directed. He led Wisconsin to the Final Four in 2000, and the Badgers trailed 19-17 at halftime of a loss to Michigan State.
Kansas opened the next season with a 99-98 win against UCLA, and Williams responded to his squad’s victory by saying, “Are you going to tell me you didn’t like this more than 19-17 at halftime? We’re trying to make it a game of basketball skills, not a weight-room contest.”
Williams addressed those comments again Wednesday in advance of the high-scoring Tar Heels’ matchup with a grind-it-out opponent.
Washington State has allowed a total of 81 points in its first two NCAA tournament games. Winthrop and Notre Dame combined for 33 after halftime against the Cougars, yet Davidson guard Stephen Curry has scored 55 second-half points.
North Carolina amassed 221 points in the first two rounds of the tournament.
“The number of people that enjoy seeing 19-18 is not as many as the number of people that like to see 61-60,” Williams said. “If you were to take a poll, you would pick 61-60. So I made a truthful statement, and Dick understood it. He knows I love the way they played defense.
“I will still say I like 19-18 OK, but I like 61-60 better. Dick and I have been good friends and Tony, I love what he’s doing with his club.”
Tony Bennett took his father’s place as the Washington State head coach before the start of last season, and Williams said the Cougars now play at a faster pace.
They still adhere to many of the same philosophies.
“In a nutshell, it’s to make the other team work to get contested shots and for us to work to get good shots,” Bennett said.
Washington State, regardless of the time remaining on the shot clock, wants to obtain an open look.
The Cougars’ starting lineup includes three guards ó Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Taylor Rochestie ó who lead the team in scoring. Aron Baynes, a 6-foot-10, 270-pound center, ranks fourth at 10.3 points per game.
“People say it’s boring,” said Low, who averages a team-best 14.1 points. “We have to apologize for getting back on defense and playing good defense. That’s what we have to do to win.
“We have to apologize for taking good shots. If it takes the whole shot clock to get a good shot, then so be it. That’s how we play, whether you like it or not. It’s not for you, it’s for us playing.”
The offensive approach helps the Cougars set up their stingy halfcourt defense.
Washington State ranks second nationally by allowing 56.1 points per game, and it is 19-0 this season when it gives up fewer than 60. It allowed a season-high 81 points in a seven-point loss to UCLA on Jan. 12.
“They’re working really hard to stop you, and you’re working really hard to continue to do the things you do,” UNC junior Marcus Ginyard said. “At some point, somebody’s going to break down and somebody’s going to give in. At this point, North Carolina knows and is really confident in the point that it’s not going to be us.”
UNC struggled against a Pac-10 team in the same round last season.
Southern Cal ignored the need for offensive rebounds, sent guards retreating back to the defensive end and limited UNC to 33 first-half points.
North Carolina fell behind by as many as 16 but stormed back to claim a 10-point win thanks to the way Ginyard and Brandan Wright crashed the offensive glass.
The Tar Heels have won twice this season while scoring in the 60s, and the second instance occurred at Bobcats Arena nearly two weeks ago. A buzzer-beating jumper by Tyler Hansbrough lifted UNC to a 68-66 victory against Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament semifinals, and Williams said he didn’t like the offensive patience his team displayed that afternoon.
“That was probably something that bothered me more than anything,” Williams said. “I like winning in the 80s and 90s, but to reach the dreams we have and be the team we want to be, you’ve got to be able to win at someone else’s tempo. You can’t be in your comfort zone all the time.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or email@example.com.
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