During UNC’s last game in Bloomington, Ind., (in 2004), the revved-up Hoosiers crowd booed Indiana native Sean May seemingly every time he touched the ball. The noise, the emotion, was memorable. “To me that was one the most hostile environments I've ever been in -- and it wasn't that bad, because we scored more points than they did,” coach Roy Williams said.
The Tar Heels may not have that sort of cushion tonight. This time around, Indiana is a Final Four favorite, while UNC is a work in progress. This will mark the Tar Heels’ fifth straight game away from the Smith Center, but only their second true road contest (they played three at the neutral-site Maui Invitational) of the season. And it’s going to be interesting to see how the freshmen, in particular, respond to the raucous crowd.
“Those guys have no clue what type of atmosphere it’s going to be tomorrow,’’ senior Dexter Strickland said Monday.
But, he added: “I think we’re ready for it. As a team, we have the focus [of], just go out and execute what Coach wants.”
THE ‘TOUGH’ TASK
Williams on Monday was still irritated by his team’s lack of toughness during its loss to Butler in the Maui Invitational semifinals. The Tar Heels fell behind by as many as 29 points during that game before cutting their deficit to six points late.
“We’d set a screen and they’d run through it,” Williams said. “They’d set a screen and we’d stop and start calling for mama.”
The Hoosiers pose an even tougher challenge than the Bulldogs, what with five players averaging double figures and National Player of the Year candidate Cody Zeller leading them all.
Look for the Tar Heels to go hard at the backboards, set harder screens and stay mentally focused -- or else.
“…Whoever puts that uniform on has got to play their tails off [Monday] night or it could be a butt kicking,’’ Williams said during his Monday night radio show.
But they’re also going to miss his scoring. After a slow start to the season, Hairston averaged 14.3 points in three games in Maui, and is second on the team in made 3-pointers (with 12). Outside shooting is -- and has got to be -- a strength for UNC this season with its inexperience in the post.
So without Hairston, UNC must still make shots. And in turn, try to slow a Hoosiers team that is pretty good from the outside, too (41.4 percent from 3-point land).