UNC, NC State set for pivotal ACC contest
Posted February 22, 2013
Updated February 23, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — North Carolina and NC State have identical records in ACC play, and are battling to stay above the all-important No. 4 seed line meaning they get Thursday off when it comes conference tournament time.
It’s been nearly a month since NC State (19-7, 8-5 ACC) beat UNC in Raleigh and the Wolfpack are expecting to see a different Tar Heels team Saturday in Chapel Hill.
“We are playing against a team that is playing really well right now,” Gottfried said. “I think they have improved a lot and got better since the first time we played.”
A lot of the UNC improvement has come from the emergence of PJ Hairston. The sophomore played just 17 minutes in the first meeting and is now averaging close to 30 minutes per game.
“I think that him in the lineup makes them much more confident,” NC State head coach Mark Gottfried said.
“They have a lot of shooters out there that are shooting well right now. We have to try and make them uncomfortable and eliminate some things that they like to do,” senior Scott Wood said.
NC State is also gaining some confidence with senior guard Lorenzo Brown close to 100 percent. The Wolfpack are looking to make some noise in the final weeks of the season.
“Where we are sitting in the ACC standings, we would like to get a couple more wins here in a row,” Wood said. “It would be big and we just need to come out and play well.”
Gottfried took a few minutes Thursday to remind the Wolfpack players about the history of the rivalry, reminding them that they have not swept the Tar Heels since 2002-03.
In Chapel Hill, the buzz word continues to be “smaller” as head coach Roy Williams said Friday that he will continue to play a smaller lineup against NC State. That means Hairston will draw the assignment of guarding Calvin Leslie Saturday.
“Staying in front of him,” Hairston said as being the key to guard the 6-foot-9 junior. “With me being smaller than him height-wise, I feel like I can stay up under him and force him to do some things he doesn’t want to do.”
“I’m comfortable with it, I really am,” Williams said of lining up a smaller team against NC State. “I would like to get the basketball inside and score inside more and have a better balance, but the fact of the matter is we don’t have that kind of player right now.”
Regardless of the lineup the Tar Heels put on the floor, this is one game Williams knows is important. Despite similar records, the overall resume favors NC State with just a couple weeks left in the regular season.
“I think once you get to the final five or six games of the season, you’d better be focusing on that game,” Williams said.