Doherty, Tar Heels riding high at .500

On 3-game win streak, road for North Carolina gets tougher in ACC play

ACC notebook

College Basketball

January 04, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The bleeding appears to be subsiding in Chapel Hill. Then again, over the next week, the North Carolina Tar Heels should get a much clearer idea of how far they have come.

It used to be that a three-game winning streak barely raised an eyebrow at Carolina, which enjoyed an 18-game streak only 11 months ago. Coming into this season, the Tar Heels had won three in a row during 38 different stretches since 1990.

This is not a typical year. North Carolina, sporting one of its more inexperienced teams in years, is riding a three-game winning streak six weeks after doing the unthinkable - losing its first two at home for the first time ever.

Now that the Tar Heels have restored some order with back-to-back, blowout victories over North Carolina A&T and Texas A&M, a 5-5 record has never looked so good.

"We've gotten a lot better in every area of play," Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty said. "But we've still got a long way to go to be the type of team we need to be."

The Tar Heels have made strides by taking better care of the ball, selecting better shots and converting those shots. In its first seven games, Carolina shot just 28 percent from three-point range. In its last three, the Tar Heels have made 48 percent of their three-point attempts and have converted more than 50 percent of their shots overall in each game.

Point guards Melvin Scott and Adam Boone, a freshman and a sophomore, are bringing stability to the backcourt, which probably will not receive the services of senior quarterback Ronald Curry. He is leaning toward preparing exclusively for the NFL draft in April.

Freshman small forward Jawad Williams has scored 35 points in his past two games. Seniors Kris Lang and Jason Capel are playing more like the low-post anchors they were projected to be.

The next week should yield a more useful progress report, as Carolina begins conference play against three top 25 teams.

The Tar Heels play host to No. 23 Wake Forest tomorrow, travel to Maryland on Wednesday, then entertain visiting No. 4 Virginia on Jan. 12.

Too many Terps turnovers

The Maryland Terrapins are not just having trouble shooting the ball when they get a good look at the basket. The Terps continue to have problems running their offense well enough to create good scoring opportunities.

Turnovers have become a glaring shortcoming in recent weeks. No. 8 Maryland showed its rust from a 10-day layoff by committing 21 miscues in a Dec. 21 loss at Oklahoma. In Sunday's 72-65 victory at North Carolina State, their Atlantic Coast Conference opener, they turned it over another 19 times, while producing only nine assists.

"It's one thing if the defense is so much better than you and is taking the ball away from you," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We just have to be better with the basketball.

"We've just been careless. There have been times when [opponents] haven't done anything to get the ball from us. We just kind of gave them the ball. You have to eliminate that, and we can."

Maryland is not setting sharp screens to free up shooters like Juan Dixon, and is not spreading the floor enough to help big men like Chris Wilcox get the ball in good positions in the paint, where they can pass out of double teams more effectively or use their athleticism in favorable, one-on-one matchups. Unforced turnovers are adding to the problem.

Williams wants to see Maryland settle into more of an offensive rhythm, whether the Terps are running a half-court attack or a fast break. He sees the Terps getting caught "in that in-between stuff where we kind of go one-on-one."

Point guards Steve Blake (83 assists, 41 turnovers) and Drew Nicholas (26, 14) are doing their part. It's the other guards who are doing the damage. Center Lonny Baxter (28 turnovers, 10 assists) is losing the ball too much on the blocks. Dixon got into the one-on-one mode too much against North Carolina State and turned the ball over nine times without producing an assist.

On the season, Maryland is averaging 17.8 assists and 14.8 turnovers. The Terps have committed at least 15 turnovers in five of their past seven games.

Something to prove

Is Virginia overrated once again? The fourth-ranked Cavaliers, who spent so much time in the Top 10 a year ago before fading badly in February and losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament, have piled up a 9-0 record with one victory over a Top 25 team - a 61-55 victory at Georgetown. Seven of Virginia's eight victories have come at home.

It remains to be seen whether Virginia can play a physical game in a half-court setting and not rely too much on creating easy scores off of coach Pete Gillen's pressing style.

The Cavaliers certainly have an impressive collection of athletes, starting with point guard Roger Mason Jr., a proven 90 percent free-throw shooter who can slash to the basket as well as anyone in the league. But it's depth that could make Virginia a league championship contender.

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