When North Carolina coach Roy Williams boarded the Tar Heels' bus in Winston-Salem, N.C., last Saturday, he suggested to his players that they spend the two-hour ride back to Chapel Hill watching a tape of their 79-73 victory over No. 16 Wake Forest. Even though it was the Tar Heels' first conference road win of the season, and only their second in two years, there was no raucous cheering as the tape played—which is exactly how Williams wanted it. "I don't want them to think that winning on the road is something that happens once a year," Williams said.
The victory improved the Tar Heels' record to 14-6, but at week's end they were in a four-way tie for fourth place in the ACC with a 4-5 mark. Coming less than 48 hours after Carolina's exhausting 83-81 overtime loss to No. 1 Duke, though, the win may show that the Heels are finally acquiring the toughness they have so sorely lacked. Says Williams, "With almost all of my teams I've coached mostly execution, but with this team I've had to coach effort."
That lack of effort has shown up most glaringly on defense, where the Tar Heels are allowing conference opponents to make 49.2% of their shots from the field, worst in the ACC. And while the Heels played better in their OT loss to Duke, they did lose due to a defensive lapse as Chris Duhon went coast-to-coast for a layup.
Williams has also been frustrated with the inconsistency of the Tar Heels. Junior forward Jawad Williams had one five-game stretch last month during which he grabbed a total of eight rebounds, and at week's end sophomore forward Sean May had made just 42.1% of his shots since Dec. 20.
The best sign for Carolina has been the renewed commitment of sophomore guard Rashad McCants, who drew Williams's ire with his four-point performance in a 61-56 loss at Kentucky on Jan. 3. After that game McCants sought out Williams for an emotional meeting that he says cleared the air between them. "I've had to learn to control only what's in my control," says McCants, who led the ACC in scoring (19.1 points a game) at week's end.
When the Carolina coaches broke down the tape of the Duke loss, they found that McCants had made more than 40 good plays on D, double his previous high. That's the kind of effort the Heels will need in order to earn a spot in the NCAAs. "During the last two games the guys have played as hard as they can," says Williams. "That's all a coach can ask for."