BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The North Carolina basketball team played three games in a five-day stretch during mid-February, beating three tough ACC opponents.
Including arch-rival Duke.
The Tar Heels have done that one better this week at the ACC tournament, taking out Syracuse, Miami and the Blue Devils again in three consecutive days to earn a spot in tonight’s championship game against No. 1 Virginia.
Although sixth-seeded UNC will be at a disadvantage against a Cavaliers team that only had to play twice to reach the final, senior guard Theo Pinson said that he’s not worried about running out of gas as he and his teammates look to finish the job and cut down the nets at Barclays Center for the Tar Heels’ 19th tournament title.
“No, I feel great,” Pinson said when asked if he was tired following Friday night’s 74-69 semifinal win against Duke.
“We’ve got some of the best people on our staff to really help us out,” added junior forward Luke Maye. “They do so much for us behind the scenes, and we’re really lucky to have them with us.”
Coach Roy Williams credited strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian and trainer Doug Halverson for helping UNC’s players recover quickly between games and keep them in the best shape possible under the circumstances.
And it’s not as if they’re facing an impossible task.
Just last year, on the same Barclays Center court, Duke pulled off the feat of winning four games in as many days — including a semifinal victory against the eventual national champion Tar Heels — to take home the conference title.
“Those guys really do try to make sure that they’re as refreshed as they possibly can be,” Williams said of Sahratian and Halverson. “Then other than that, it’s all in your mind, and I hope it’s not in our mind.”
Considering that today’s championship game opponent is a team that went 17-1 in the ACC, allowed just 49 points in a Jan. 6 victory against UNC and is the top-ranked team in the nation, the Tar Heels’ main concern should be solving Virginia’s pack line defense, not overcoming fatigue.
“We’ve got to play a heck of a lot better. Guys, they’re the No. 1 team in the country,” Williams said. “They are the No. 1 team unanimously, and they beat us by 77 points or whatever it was. So we’ve got to go in there and try to play the perfect game.
“If we try to play the perfect game and play as close as we can possibly play to that, then we’ll have a chance to win. There’s nobody that has more respect and admiration for the way another coach coaches than what I feel for Tony Bennett.”
As challenging as the game will be, it’s one the Tar Heels are anxious to take on.
Given their difficult strength of schedule, a win could potentially earn them a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA tournament. They may already have ensured themselves a spot in Charlotte for the first two rounds.
“I feel like this is the game that needed to be in the championship we’re here now,” Pinson said.