Texas may be more youth-laden than the Longhorns teams that have beaten the Tar Heels the last two seasons, but Joe Holladay, UNC's director of basketball operations, knows to expect one thing for certain in Wednesday night's matchup:
“Texas will be very physical,’’ Holladay, who was filling in for head coach Roy Williams on his weekly radio show, said Tuesday night.
Holladay said that coach Rick Barnes’ Texas teams aren’t quite as physical as the squads he coached at Clemson, but they’re always tough. It’s one of Barnes' trademarks.
“Different coaches have different reputations, his kids buy into that, and he recruits kids that will play that way,’’ he said. “I’m not saying dirty, but tough kids that will play hard, and they don’t mind putting that elbow in you.”
Holladay recalled the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2004, when Texas beat UNC 78-75 and “they physically beat us up. They had four or five big guys, and we had Sean May. In fact, it kind of turned us around, because Sean came back and got in shape and changed his whole body after that one beating he took that one game.”
(May shot 2-for-10 in that game, finishing with 11 points.)
Then two years ago, the Longhorns destroyed UNC on the backboards, out-rebounding the Tar Heels by a 60-41 margin. And UNC forward Harrison Barnes called last year's match-up, which the Tar Heels lost on a game-winning shot, the most physical game he had every been a part of.
“So it’s going to be a more physical game than we’re used to,’’ Holladay said. “… They’re a young team, but if you look at them, they’ll play fast. They average 80 points at home, and 79 ½ on the road, so they don’t back off.”
BETTER SHOTS? BETTER PERCENTAGE: Holladay said one of the reasons for junior Dexter Strickland's team-leading 57.6 percent shooting percentage is his dedication to improving his shot; the guard came to the gym almost every morning last semester to shoot for an extra hour.
Another reason: “I think the key to Dexter’s shot this year is he’s taking better shots. I love to see Dexter steal the ball and go dunk it; I love that shot. But he doesn’t take a lot of contested shots. He made a couple the other night in the game, but he’s taking better shots, and good shot selection usually leads to a higher percentage.”
QUOTEABLE: Holladay on junior guard Leslie McDonald, who was recently cleared to shoot at practice after offseason knee surgery, and hopes to be able to return to full workouts soon: ”I kind of judge Leslie every game by how he’s dancing [during the fan-favorite “Jump Around” dance, after introductions]. That’s how I’ve judged his knee improvement; it’s really coming along pretty good.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.