North Carolina trying to get a grip against Arkansas
Mar. 20, 2015
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — North Carolina coach Roy Williams looked at his team during a late-game huddle Thursday against Harvard and saw panic.
The fourth-seeded Tar Heels had squandered two double-digit leads — including a 16-point advantage in the second half — turned the ball over 17 times and gave up 29 points off those miscues.
There was reason to be alarmed.
Now, with No. 5 seed Arkansas (27-8) on tap Saturday and a Sweet 16 berth at stake in the West Region, Williams is trying to make sure his Tar Heels (25-11) don't get downright fearful.
The Razorbacks rank seventh in the nation in turnover margin, having forced 551 turnovers in 35 games. They play a frantic, full-court-pressing game that tends to speed up opponents and force mistakes and poor shots.
"If we turn it over at the same rate we did (against Harvard), we won't have anybody left at the end of the game, including the head coach, because we're going to fight somebody, and that usually means our players," Williams said. "We've got to stay away from the silly turnovers. ...
"We've got to turn up our intensity higher than it's been all year long. We've got to turn up our toughness because you're going to be double-teamed, you're going to be triple-teamed, you can't start crying for mama to come help you."
There's little doubt turnovers will be a key to the game.
Wofford handled Arkansas' press better than most Thursday, and the tiny Terriers nearly pulled off a huge upset.
"Wofford, they matched up perfectly," Arkansas guard Michael Qualls said. "North Carolina, they're a bigger team. I feel like our press will be more effective against them."
The Tar Heels can't afford to be sloppy. In their two previous games against Southeastern Conference teams that press, they turned the ball over 19 times against Florida and 18 against Kentucky. North Carolina had been ball security late in the season, but then got careless again against Harvard and it was nearly costly.
"We're not Harvard," Qualls said.
Nope, the Razorbacks have much more size and athleticism.
"We're not really worried about the turnover thing," UNC forward J.P. Tokoto said. "We know what we can do, we know we can take care of the ball, we know we can attack under control. That's what we're going to look to do."
Aside from ball security, here are some things to know about North Carolina and Arkansas heading into Saturday's game:
NEARING MILESTONE: Williams needs one victory to tie late coach Dean Smith for the most NCAA Tournament wins at North Carolina. Williams has 31. "I really do appreciate those kind of long-standing records," Williams said. "I do really love the tradition and the history of college basketball, so that's a pretty neat deal. I don't think I'm going to put any extra pressure on my team, though, because they look at it like it's my record, and that's not what it is."
FUN FACTS: The Razorbacks are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, when North Carolina eliminated them 108-77 in the second round. Asked about that game, Qualls responded that he's "not too deep into the Arkansas fun facts."
ACADEMIC SCANDAL: Asked about North Carolina's academic scandal, Williams made it clear that his alma mater has not "lost its way." ''We've been going through this for three years, seems like a lifetime," he said. "Some people's attitudes or ideas are out in Never Never Land and think everything in the world is perfect. I don't happen to think everything in the world is perfect, but you can make really, really positive things if you really want to."
PASS LINE: Williams and Arkansas coach Mike Anderson have a long history together, stemming from their days as assistants under Smith and Nolan Richardson. Williams and Anderson have even been on trips together. "Mike's best characteristic is his wife. She's really helped him out a heck of a lot. I tried to teach her how to shoot craps one night and she won money, so she thinks I'm a pretty good guy."
SKY-HIGH EXPECTATIONS: SEC player of the year Bobby Portis had 15 points and 13 rebounds against Wofford, but drew criticism for missing some easy shots and making 5 of 9 from the free-throw line. "I feel like people expect me to go out there and get 30 points and 20 rebounds every game and that's not realistic. I can't just force to try to get stats or anything. It's not about that. Primarily it's about us winning."