COLUMBUS, Ohio — No one knows better than North Carolina’s Roy Williams that in the NCAA tournament, winning is the only thing that matters. Regardless of how well your team plays.
So even though his Tar Heels didn’t exactly distinguish themselves in their opening round Midwest Region win against Iona on Friday, their Hall of Fame coach isn’t taking their performance as an ominous warning sign heading into Sunday’s second round game against ninth-seeded Washington.
“You build your momentum once you get in the tournament,” Williams said after UNC rallied from a five-point halftime deficit for an 88-73 victory at Nationwide Arena. “I was on the staff of a pretty good team in 1982 and the first game we played (was against) James Madison in Charlotte. And we blew them out 52-50. So it happens.
“We had a guy named (james) Worthy, a guy named (Michael) Jordan and a guy named (Sam) Perkins on that team. We ended up winning the national championship. So it’s one game. But learn from this one game. We’ve got to have more passion.”
Perhaps is was a case of the nerves or the late night starting time. Or maybe the Tar Heels didn’t exactly take their 16th-seeded opponent seriously.
Whatever the reason, they didn’t come out with much passion during a first half in which they allowed Iona to go 10 of 21 from beyond the 3-point line and seemed a step behind the Gaels for every loose ball.
It was a performance that in the words of senior guard Kenny Williams “could very well (have gotten UNC) beat by 25” if it had been playing a bigger, more talented team.
At the same time, it would just as easily turn out to be the cautionary lesson that carries the Tar Heels all the way to the Final Four in Minneapolis.
“I feel like we needed it,” point guard Coby White said of Friday’s first half struggles. “I would rather that happen now and we get the win than happen down the road.”
UNC and Washington might be located an entire continent apart, but that doesn’t mean their players are completely unfamiliar with each other. Two, in particular, have a lengthy history that brings back memories of their head-to-head battles on the summer circuit before their college careers began.
“Luke Maye … when I was a junior in our last year of AAU, I played his team like seven, eight times that whole summer,” Huskies’ big man Noah Dickerson said of UNC’s senior star. “Our parents talked a lot and got pretty close. Throughout the years I’ve always been glad he’s been doing his thing at North Carolina. It’s been fun to watch.”
Dickerson, who’s from Atlanta, played for the Georgia Stars — as did UNC junior and fellow Georgia native Brandon Robinson — while Maye was a member of the Charlotte-based Team United.
Neither player offered any detail about their previous battles, perhaps not wanting to provide bulletin board material for the other side heading into Sunday’s game.
Asked specifically Saturday how he fared against Maye, Dickerson relied simply: “I guess we’ll have to see tomorrow.”
Since both players are about the same size and play the same position, they’ll likely be seeding a lot of each other once the game begins.
“He does a good job of finding his areas and finding his angles,” Maye said of Dickerson, who averages 12.2 points and a team-leading 7.4 rebounds per game. “He’s a great scorer in the low post. We’re going to have to do our best to slow him down and make sure we have a body in front of him and the basket every single play.”
SECOND ROUND BLUES
Williams has never lost a first round NCAA tournament game in his coaching career, improving to 29-0 all-time with Friday’s win against Iona.
His luck in the second round, at least recently, hasn’t been quite as good.
UNC is just 3-3 in its last six second round games, including an upset loss to Texas A&M in Charlotte last year. But if you think that stat bothers the Hall of Fame coach, well, he certainly isn’t showing it.
“Frankly, my dear,” he said, using the start of a famous movie line that is rapidly becoming his new favorite catchphrase.
“Ninety-nine percent of the coaches in the world would take that. Seriously, 3-3 in the second round. (Heck), a lot of guys are sitting at home getting ready for their golf game. So I’ll take 3-3 all the time if you’;d make two of those three years to go play for the national championship.”