Playing at Miami Saturday is the toughest game we’ve had and may be the toughest game of the entire season. They’re awfully good, very big and talented and, man, can they get out and run. And they’re so experienced with six seniors who play so well together for Coach Larranaga, who’s done a fantastic job this season.
Do we have a chance? Sure we do. How many games have we won over the years where people said we had no chance, no shot?
Number 1, we have to make shots. We can’t go down there and expect to win without taking good shots and making a high percentage. And we can’t turn the ball over and let them get into their transition game, where they make layups and dunks with their crowd going wild. The only two games Miami sells out are Duke and Carolina, and after what they did to Duke we can’t let them get going.
And our key players can’t get into foul trouble. Our defense has to be aggressive but smart, making them take tough jump shots with a hand in their face. And when they miss, we’ve got to rebound the basketball. (Reggie) Johnson and (Kenny) Kadji and (Julian) Gamble are a load in the middle, and all four of our big men have got to contribute, play tough “D” and box out.
But, you know, we’re capable of winning. Our confidence is good at this point. Virginia Tech was a great win the way we came back and toughed it out, and the way we shot the ball against Wake Forest has got to continue at Miami. This will be a real challenge, one of the few times Carolina is an underdog. Miami is No. 2 in the RPI, right behind Duke where we have to play next week.
We’ve gotten a lot better and Coach Williams has done a tremendous job with this team through all the injuries and missed games. He knows you have to treat a young team differently than a veteran team when they make mistakes because young teams can be fragile and you don’t want to tear down their confidence.
I’m really impressed by Marcus’ play and especially how he’s rebounding the basketball for such a little guy. How many times does your point guard lead you in rebounding? Sure, some of them were long rebounds that went right to Marcus, but when I played I didn’t get many of those. Even if the ball was coming right to me, Mitch Kupchak would have knocked me over to get it!
We’re still so young, but I think this is one of those games we’ll play well Saturday. We may be the healthiest we’ve been in a long time. I think everybody will play and we’ve built some depth because of so many guys being hurt that others have had to step up or step in and play more.
It’s funny how college basketball has changed. You don’t have good freshmen playing against great seniors anymore, like Skip Wise playing against David Thompson. Never again because the great seniors are long gone. The better you are, the faster you go to the NBA. DT never would have been around until he was a senior; he might have gone after he played for the freshman team!
People ask me how does Miami get four kids from North Carolina? Most were recruited by former coach Frank Haith, who was an assistant at Wake Forest and had great connections in this state. And Wake Forest was always good about getting those second-tier kids who, by the time they were juniors, had developed into really good players. Miami has done the same thing, and maybe no team in college basketball ranked that high will ever have that many seniors again.
But no team is invincible. We always have a chance.
Phil Ford was a three-time All-American at UNC, 1978 ACC Player of the Year and went on to be the NBA Rookie of the Year and an NBA all-star.