Tar Heels face yet another tough test

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
1:00
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- On the bus ride home Sunday, they were depressed.

By practice Tuesday, they were determined.

"We do play well when the cards are stacked against us," North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes said.

And that's exactly where the top-seeded Tar Heels find themselves after starting point guard Kendall Marshall underwent surgery Monday to insert a screw into his fractured right wrist. They're rallying around their adversity.

Again.

Over the past two seasons, UNC has found a way to persevere through double-digit deficits, defecting players and lopsided losses -- fighting its way back from a humbling trip to the postseason NIT in 2010 and into NCAA title contention again this season.

Coach Roy Williams acknowledged that possibly losing Marshall (or having him on a limited basis) for the rest of the NCAA tournament is "a heavier dose" of disadvantage than this team has ever faced.

But how UNC responds may get to the crux of the biggest question surrounding this squad: Just how tough are these Tar Heels?

To understand what Marshall means to this team, and how much it has rallied from, you have to go back 13 months to February 2011, when junior point guard Larry Drew II -- who had been replaced by Marshall in the starting lineup for the previous four games -- packed up and moved back to the West Coast in the middle of the ACC season. Drew II didn't even tell his roommate, guard Justin Watts, that he was leaving. His dad was the one who called Williams.

UNC, stunned in the days following, was teetered on a precipice. Would it bond, or become unhinged? The previous summer, twin forwards David and Travis Wear had also suddenly opted to transfer without telling anyone. Just before fall practice, senior leader Will Graves was suspended for the season.

And when Drew abandoned ship, the Tar Heels were still only four games removed from an effort-less 20-point loss at Georgia Tech, a performance that raised doubts about whether they were really any different from the squad that had failed to make the NCAA tournament (for the first time in the Williams era) the previous spring.

"That was really an important time for us," Williams said last season. "Not just how Kendall responded to taking over, but how the team responded to him."

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