Having already played road games this season at sixth-ranked Louisville, San Diego State, No. 13 Kansas and Montana -- and won at No. 9 Pittsburgh -- Long Beach State point guard Casper Ware thinks his team is anything but intimidated as it prepares to play No. 4/6 North Carolina at the Smith Center on Saturday.
In fact, the senior says his team may have leaned too much in the opposite direction.
“We’ve gotten so used to it, maybe we’re getting too relaxed, playing on the road,’’ he said in a phone interview earlier this week. “We’ve had a couple of slow starts … maybe because we felt too comfortable. And that’s something we’ve got to fix.”
At Louisville on Nov. 28, the 49ers didn’t convert a field goal until almost four minutes into the game. They lost 79-66.
At Kansas on Tuesday, they fell behind 34-15 early, rallied, but ultimately lost 88-80.
Ware said his team can’t afford to make the same mistake against the Tar Heels, against whom they scored 57 second-half points last season before losing by five points.
“We have to rebound, move the ball … I think we are quicker than they are, and can use it to our advantage,” he said.
The 49ers boast a fast, veteran backcourt led by Ware (17 ppg, 4.1 apg), a 5-feet-10 John Wooden Award candidate who says his height often allows him to get under and around taller, slower ballhandlers. He is joined on the perimeter by senior guard Larry Anderson (15 ppg) and junior James Ennis (10.3 ppg).
UNC, as usual, will have a decided height advantage in the frontcourt, but 6-foot-8 T.J. Robinson is still hard to handle; he’s averaging a double-double (14.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg).
“The [the Tar Heels] were a really good team when we played them last year, and they’ve added a few more pieces to that,’’ Ware said. “But I don’t think we’re surprising people anymore, with the schedule we’ve played. … People know how close this game was last year, so we’re not sneaking up on anyone.”
Actually, they’d like to make their presence felt from tipoff.
“We just have to be focused from the start,” he said.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.