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UNC Basketball: Breaking down Anthony Harris’ breakout performance

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The freshman guard led the charge as UNC pulled away against UCLA.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at North Carolina Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, we finally have some good basketball news to write about, so we’re going to take full advantage. Our film reviews have been light this year due to so many lackluster performances and not having many positive highlights to compare and contrast. I’m looking to fix that before the Yale game, but we can get the party started by reviewing Anthony Harris’ breakout performance.

Here’s the deal: Harris wasn’t spectacular. He didn’t mesmerize with flashy moves, athletic finishes, or highlight-worthy defense. He was just solid, confident, and aggressive. On this year’s team, that’s worthy of special recognition.

UCLA cut a 36-23 UNC halftime to a single point on the back of a 12-0 run to open the second half. The Heels penchant for allowing second half runs is another topic altogether but, as has been the case, they looked panicked and leaderless. Harris stepped up.

Over a 9:27 stretch North Carolina outscored the Bruins 20-10. Harris poured in 12 of those points, including eight straight over three possessions in 65 seconds. That mini explosion expanded a 49-43 lead to 57-45 with 5:56 remaining. The Bruins never seriously challenged again.

Enough rambling. Here’s the proof.

Drive and FT’s

Nothing flashy here. Harris took the handoff from Leaky, makes a wide turn and hits the hole. Brandon Robinson helps out by floating to the wing once Harris turns the corner. Good recognition and aggression, but other Heels have made similar plays this season. What really makes this noteworthy?

Harris hit both ensuing free throws, doing his part to improve UNC’s overall foul shooting woes. Garrison Brooks had already missed a pair during the Bruins’ run, and exasperation was setting in. Harris stopped the bleeding and pushed the lead to 38-35.

Every little bit counts.

Mid-range jumper

A little luck never hurt anyone, but people handle luck differently. In this case, Francis made a poor entry pass to Bacot. Unable to corral the pass, he (unintentionally?) knocks it to Harris on the wing. The shot clock is winding down, but Harris doesn’t panic. A slight hesitation gets the defender to bite. Harris takes one dribble, stops, and pops. How many times have we watched this team hoist up ill-advised shots or panic in similar situations?

Harris avoided all those pitfalls. Crisis averted and UNC led 44-38.

Harris lay-up

Once again, some luck (or very poor UCLA execution) bounced Harris’ way. Brooks “forces” a loose ball after UCLA forward Chris Smith dribbles it off Brooks’ knee. Harris was already shading over to help with the drive and, uh, gathers possession of the ball. An argument could be made that he double-dribbled, but hey, we’re all friends here. Right?

This pushed the lead to 51-43.

Three-pointer #1

28 seconds later, Harris strikes again. Leaky Black gets to the free-throw line, drawing three UCLA defenders. He drops it to Bacot, who can’t do much with the odd placement and because Bacot is struggling to impose his will on the block (that’s for another time).

To his credit, Bacot settles down and gains control as the defense collapses. He finds Harris who does not hesitate. There’s an old saying that explains success comes to those who are in the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude. This play is proof of that axiom. (This play is also evidence that UCLA is a really bad team.)

UNC led 54-43

Three-pointer #2

37 seconds later Harris does it again. Spacing and timing in UNC’s offense takes on greater importance when UNC lacks natural shot creators, playmakers, and/or veteran experience. Sound familiar? That’s why this play was subtle but impressive.

Harris starts at free-throw line extended, as Black comes off the ball screen from Bacot. UCLA’s David Singleton goes under the screen because nobody respects UNC’s ability to hit the ocean if they were standing on top of a submerged submarine, much less any three-point attempts from dry land. Then Prince Ali shades over to “help”, even though Black has not shown any desire this season to drive to the rim. Honestly, why UCLA was still guarding Black that far out from the baket is a headscratcher to me, but whatever.

Harris reads the defense and slides four feet to the right. Black sees him and Harris does the rest. Again, there was no hesitation in his release. Catch. Lock. Load. Fire. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This gave UNC a 57-45 lead. UCLA never got within single-digits again

Harris Lay-up

Just to finish this off, here are Harris’ final two points. He runs his lane and Bacot finds him out of their press break (though, to say they “broke” the press is strictly because it is the Christmas season and I’m being polite). Harris attacks, misses, and gets the put back. Ho-hum. This gave UNC its largest lead of the game, 65-49

Harris kick-out

I added this just because it was such a heady play by a young freshman who just had one of the most memorable games of life (up to this point). The last few minutes were messy because both the 2019-20 Heels and Mick Cronin’s teams aren’t known for pretty basketball. What are you going to do?

Semi-serious jokes aside, Brooks finds Harris on the run-out. Harris could have taken it to the rim where he might make the lay-up or get fouled. That’s an understandable play for an excited freshman who was the catalyst for his team’s win. Harris didn’t do that.

Instead, Harris showed a glimpse of his basketball IQ by pulling up and kicking out to Brandon Robinson. At this point, did it really impact the game? Probably not. Does it still matter? Yes, absolutely. Composure, basketball smarts, and situational awareness have all been missing for large parts of the season. Those attributes need to be celebrated when displayed.

Conclusion

Yesterday allowed us to all breathe a sigh of relief. Harris’ performance in conjunction with Jeremiah Francis’ production over the last seven days has been refreshing. Just keep all optimism at healthy levels.

Defense is a major work in progress for both players and Harris certainly had his struggles on that end. Both are still new to the scene and teams will soon learn how to scheme and gameplan for them on both sides of the floor. They may help salvage the season, but they aren’t saviors. There are still serious chinks (gaping holes?) in both their and UNC’s armor.

However, at a minimum, UNC found some depth and versatility on the perimeter they were sorely lacking just two weeks ago. Neither player is panicking, they’re making (mostly) smart plays, and they understrand their individual strengths and weaknesses. Most freshman seasons at UNC, that would be good enough for spot minutes off the bench. This year, those talents will get your major playing time in the second-half of a one-point game.

Merry Christmas!