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Friday, January 18, 2013
Maryland at UNC: What to watch

By Robbi Pickeral

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – All season, North Carolina coach Roy Williams has talked about how his team needs to play with a better sense of urgency.

The players see it on game tape, he said Friday, and they understand what they need to do.

"Now they need to put it on the court," he said.

Especially now.

The Tar Heels (11-5, 1-2 ACC) escaped an 0-3 league start last Saturday by winning at Florida State, and they've had an open week to try to heal a few injuries and reflect on early-season inconsistencies. But they face another tough test Saturday against a deep, defensive-minded Maryland team that broke a two-game ACC losing streak of its own by upsetting No. 14 NC State on Wednesday.

"I do think the win is going to give us confidence," coach Mark Turgeon said of his Terrapins (14-3, 2-2).

A few things to watch in the game, which tips off at noon ET:

ALEX LEN

Alex Len
Alex Len is averaging almost 26 minutes of playing time, 13.5 points and 8.1 rebounds a game.
Maryland's 7-foot-1 center had his team's fans storming the court Wednesday night when he dropped in teammate Pe'Shon Howard's air ball with 0.9 seconds left to beat the Wolfpack. It marked the first time the Terps have topped a ranked foe since March 3, 2010.

Len was good last year as a freshman, Williams said.

Now, he's better, and he is averaging 13.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

"He's improved a great deal," Williams said. "He's stronger, quicker, more aggressive mentally and physically. … Just the consistency of his effort, the condition of his body, the success that he's having. He's played well against everybody, whether it's Kentucky or anybody else on their schedule. He's been their most consistent player."

And he's not the only big body the Terps will throw at the Tar Heels. Maryland also boasts 6-8 senior James Padgett (6.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG), 6-8 freshman Charles Mitchell (5.8, 6.2) and 6-9 freshman Shaquille Cleare as part of a 10-man rotation averaging double-figure minutes.

That frontcourt depth provides a tall challenge for UNC, Williams agreed, "because we're still searching to find that great play from the post," he said. "A lot of people say I'm still searching for the one guy; I don't care if it's one or all four of them, I just want us to play better in the post. Be more aggressive, score more, shoot a higher percentage and keep the other team from shooting a high percentage."

REBOUNDING

This game will feature the two best rebounding teams in the ACC, and two of the best in the nation (each squad is pulling down 43.2 per game).

Maryland, as mentioned above, has the advantage of having a bunch of big guys to control the boards. Meanwhile, UNC, which has rotated three (and sometimes four) players at center this season, has enlisted more help from its wings, as Reggie Bullock (5.8) and P.J. Hairston (4.4) rank second and third on the team in rebounding.

Expect rebounding to be an emphasis for Williams and Turgeon (who was an assistant Kansas Jayhawks coach under Williams).

"First year at Kansas, I had a prospect come in that said, 'I thought there were just 10 commandments, but there must be an 11th – 'Thou Shalt Box Out,' Williams recalled. "Because if we see one guy in practice not box out, we stop and run every day. Because I really do believe it's that important."

HAIRSTON

Williams joked on his radio show Monday night that he wasn't going to be nice to the reserve wing (who scored a career-high 23 points against FSU) because "I was nice to him after UNLV and he stopped playing for two games."

Hairston scored 15 points in that Dec. 29 win over the then-20th-ranked Rebels -- only to follow that with eight and five points, respectively, in losses at Virginia and to Miami. The Tar Heels need him to keep scoring against the Terps, who have held each of their past four foes to 37.3 percent shooting or worse. Especially given that another sharpshooting UNC reserve, Leslie McDonald, is expected to miss his third straight game because of a sore knee.