Dexter Strickland whips a pass around defender Jared Berggren #40 of the Wisconsin Badgers during play at the Dean Smith Center on November 30, 2011.
No that's not a halftime score.
UNC accomplished something tonight, even if in the first half it seemed more accidental than anything else. They played tight, suffocating defense. Jordan Taylor was held to 6 of 20 shooting, 3 of 11 behind the arc, as Dexter Strickland hounded him in the second half. Strickland allowed him only one made shot in the first nineteen minutes of the second period, despite playing with three fouls. As a team Wisconsin, second in the nation in three point percentage, shot 8 of 28 from beyond the arc. And the Heels did it without fouling, limiting the Badgers to six free throw attempts. Carolina did a much better job on the boards, and by the game's end Wisconsin just looked lost, not really moving without the ball and with no idea how to attack the UNC D. Outside of too many open threes in the first half – which didn't fall, happily – it was a very impressive performance.
I wish the same could be said about the offense. UNC made absolutely no use of their height advantage. Tyler Zeller would finish with only twelve points, half coming on his 6 for 6 free throw shooting. John Henson would have only eight. The Heels turned the ball over fourteen times, often while trying to get it inside. Barnes also struggled initially, missing his first three shots, but then came alive, becoming the only Tar Heel to hit a shot from the field in a second half stretch from the 14 minute mark (when UNC was down five) to the six (when they led by six). He would finish with a game-high 20 points.
With so many things going so poorly, Carolina was lucky to have their free throw shooting to fall back on. The Heels were 19 of 24, including sinking 14 straight to start the second half. They'd need every one, because their late-game play still needs work. Up ten with 1:03 remaining, Strickland first fouled Jordan Taylor on the inbounds, giving him two points without taking any time off the clock. Then after breaking the press, Strickland threw the ball away on an ill-advised pass rather than just pull up on the fast break; Wisconsin was able to cut the lead to five.
Luckily, the Heels were able to pull it out. The final score is even a little closer than it actually was, as it includes a Ben Brust half court shot as time expired that banked in. It's still the no the level of play they'll have to maintain to beat Kentucky, but at least they showed they could get to that level on defense. They may have to do it without P.J. Hairston, who fell on his wrist attempting to take a charge and left the game with ice on it. I assume will hear whether it's serious within a day.
It looked to be avery frustrating game for Roy Williams, and pretty nerve-wracking if you were a Carolina fan trying to watch, but in the end it was a win over a top ten program that plays a very different style than the Heels. For that, they should be applauded. But I have to agree with a lot of folks' sentiments, including Roy's – I don't want to play this team again.