02/28/06 — Young Heels have old-school attitude

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Young Heels have old-school attitude

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 28, 2006 2:44 PM

CHAPEL HILL -- After North Carolina's men's basketball team defeated Maryland on Sunday -- winning their fifth game in a row in Atlantic Coast Conference play and eighth in nine outings overall -- patting themselves on the back would have been acceptable.

After all, the young Heels beat the Terrapins by 24, sweeping the season series against a team picked to finish ahead of them in the conference, and locked up a first-round bye in the always-grueling conference tourney.

But, a squad that lost nearly all of its scoring production from last year with few expectations, still refuses to be content.

Sure, the 57 points allowed against the Terps was the least they have allowed in the ACC this season, and Maryland shot a chilly, 27.9 percent from the field. On top of that, Carolina's margin of victory was more than 10 for the third-straight game.

Still, they maintain a humble, calm demeanor.

"We got lucky a lot. They missed a lot of close shots," UNC senior David Noel said. "We contested some, but we gave away too many easy baskets. We didn't play the kind of defense we wanted and it didn't go as smoothly as we wanted."

They even seemed a little shocked themselves when they heard about the bye in the tournament.

"I didn't even know that, but that's great for us," freshman Bobby Frasor said. "That's big. It's nice to not play that first day and having to worry about playing back-to-back early in the tournament."

But that kind of old-school attitude seems to fit this team. In a college game increasingly dominated by 6-foot-6 wings that can dribble and slash, the Heels' leading scorer is a 6-foot-9, back-to-the-basket, throwback. Oh yeah, Hansbrough, a veritable lock for national freshman of the year, was solid again with a "quiet" 21 points and seven rebounds.

Following his teams' loss, their seventh in nine games, Maryland coach Gary Williams praised Hansbrough but pointed to the leadership of the Tar Heels' upper classmen as a key reason to their success.

"Hansbrough deserves all the recognition he gets, but Noel and Terry have showed me something in waiting their turn and playing like they have this year," Gary Williams said. "Those two guys have been the key."

Often, the Terps looked sluggish on Sunday -- missing layups, not contesting shots and turning it over as four players played 27 minutes or more.

While UNC, now ranked No. 13, had its fair share of turnovers with 17, they constantly played aggressive and fresh. Noel put in 36 minutes, but nobody else played more than 27 and nine players recorded 11-or-more. And those minutes were not just in the end during "garbage time." North Carolina coach Roy Williams worked a steady rotation in-and-out in the first half as well -- using 10 players.

Especially for the young guards, staying fresh at this point of the season is key.

"It's nice ... all those guys coming off the bench," Frasor said. "Having that kind of rotation and going that deep allows us to not loose a step."

Next up is the last home contest on Wednesday against Virginia, then a trip down highway 15-501 to face archrival and No. 2 Duke as five freshmen will make their first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium. As they enter March, the season will increasingly become a step-by-step campaign. In a few weeks, whether UNC's surprising season continues or ends will be based on the outcome of each NCAA Tournament game.

After February's streak, have expectations increased for a team that seemed destined in the preseason to simply, rebuild?

"I never try to have expectations," Roy Williams said. "I just have hopes and my hopes are always high. I'm just enjoying the heck out of coaching this group.

"They're competitive."

Recently, that has been enough.