Most people were expecting a rock fight, but despite the relatively weak final score of 73-66, UNC and UCLA put on a great game in front of the country to wrap up the Sweet 16. back-and-forth was full of drama which is exactly what you would expect for college basketball at this time of year.
Somehow, that magical ride the Tar Heels have been on since winning Blacksburg continues, and here’s what we learned as the Tar Heels got closer and closer to New Orleans. by beating the Bruins.
I was going to go with some sort of pun there, but Ian Eagle pretty much used them all last night.
The great thing about this run for the Tar Heels is that each game saw a different player become the hero. Against Marquette, Brady Manek led the way. RJ Davis put the team on their back against Baylor when the chips were down, and he had to do it when Caleb Love fouled out with plenty of time remaining in the game. Love encouraged his teammates from the bench, not sulking, but doing what he could to try to convince the team.
He seemed to want to make amends last night.
Funny thing is, with Caleb, you almost hate when he makes his first shot because it gives him a ton of irrational confidence. That’s exactly what happened in the first half against UCLA, as Caleb made his first shot for three…and those ended up being his only points of the half. It felt like another “Love pulls itself out of the game” moment, but something changed in the second half.
Caleb set aside the UCLA defense trying to account for Armando Bacot and Manek. UCLA basically challenged him to shoot after he only put three in the first half, and he made them pay with drives to the basket that kept coming in. Once that happened, those three pointers were easy money. He went on to score 27 second-half goals, including this one with less than a minute to play which gave the Tar Heels the lead for good:
Love has drawn a lot of ire from fans, and in case you were wondering if he heard it, by his reactions on the pitch, you could see him exorcising multiple demons with every bombshell he makes. Last night, Exhibits A, B, and C explained why Coach Hubert Davis continues to trust Caleb, and that night the patience paid off.
If there had been any question as to whether Carolina giving up a 25-point lead last weekend would hang around this team, they answered. UCLA’s runs always had a response, and the team was undeterred on defense when the Bruins landed some tough shots.
It’s notable because it’s the first real close game this group of Tar Heels have played in the tournament – you almost threw Baylor out because of the 25-point lead and the weirdness that surrounds it. In truth, since their blowout losses to Miami and Wake Forest, the Tar Heels have either knocked out teams or stayed close, even getting a run against Duke in Game 1 at Chapel Hill before he slipped away from them. They continued to advance.
This short-memory attitude carried over last night as the Tar Heels refused to go down every time UCLA continued to answer the bell, and they finally wore them down in the end. With 2:07 remaining, UCLA took the lead one last time thanks to a field goal from Tyger Campbell, and Carolina – especially Love – responded right away to tie it up. In fact, UCLA wouldn’t score again until nine seconds remained to cut Carolina’s lead from five to three. The Tar Heels avoided their inbound issues from last week – amazing what happens when Love and Manek are there to accept passes – and sealed it afterwards.
The growth of this team has been a sight to behold, and the fact that they had the confidence to get through a tough end last week and tough times in the game makes them an almost completely different team to the one we have. seen in January. Something that Hubert Davis liked to remind us.
It was a very long time ago. I apologize. I’m serious. We have now won 15 of the last 18 games? That Wake Forest game was in January. Like I told you before – and I apologize, I’m a positive guy. I am a positive guy. These guys have won, what is it, nine of the last ten, 15 of the last 18, and we’re talking about a game in January?
Hubert Davis and his submarines
What should be obvious by now is that Hubert Davis trusts the players off his bench to come and spell the starters when needed, and is not beholden to how this sub did in the game. previous.
For example, look at last weekend’s hero, Dontrez Styles. After playing 25 minutes against Baylor, the rookie only played five minutes against UCLA, and most of it in the first half. He tried an ill-advised three during this time and was quickly put back on the bench. Enter Puff Johnson, who only saw ten minutes of action.
Some of those minutes, however, were key to victory. Brady Manek didn’t have a great game as he struggled to find his shot after setting the nets on fire in Fort Worth. After a missed bunny about eight minutes from the end, Davis fired Manek and let him take some time to remember. Puff played well during that time, sticking with his man, firing a rebound and helping to keep the score pretty much where it was when Manek came out. It was only two minutes of play, but in reality with the TV Timeout it was more like ten actual minutes, and of course a few minutes later Manek hit a huge three to take the lead for Carolina.
Davis’ ability to read which guy could have him and work best with the opponent wasn’t rated as highly as it should be as most would have stuck with last weekend’s hero . It’s yet another little thing that confirms that there was a reason Roy Williams thought Davis would be the best man for the job, and that nimble nature led Carolina on the cusp of heading back to New Orleans to the first time since 1993.