CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina guard Leslie McDonald said his team still hasn’t gotten the bad taste out of its mouth.
“But it’s much better than yesterday, and the day before then, and the day before then,’’ the redshirt junior said Friday. “We’re experiencing a lot of things, and we’re going through a lot of things, so all we can do is take it day by day.”
After losing two of its past three games -- and trailing by 20-plus points to both Butler and Indiana in those losses -- it’s been a rough stretch for the Tar Heels, who play UAB at the Smith Center at 6 p.m. ET Saturday.
Wing Reggie Bullock, who suffered two bruised fingers in the loss at Indiana and whose status will be a game-day decision, said Saturday’s game will be another test to see where the team stands. Responsibility, teamwork, and being held accountable have been been emphasized in workouts.
“One thing that’s been stressed in practice is: do your job to the best of your ability, and if not, you’re coming out of the game,’’ Bullock said. “And I really respect [coach Roy Williams] for saying that, because that’s the only way you’re going to get players’ attention -- ‘If you don’t do your job, you’re going to come out of the game,’ whether it’s me, Mac [James Michael McAdoo]. If you’re a leader on this team, you should come out of the game if you’re not doing your job to set an example for the [players] that are coming in to replace you.”
A few things to keep an eye on during Saturday’s game:
Sophomore wing P.J. Hairston didn’t make the trip to Indiana because of a mildly sprained left knee suffered during Sunday’s practice. Bullock suffered his contusions to his right (shooting) middle and ring fingers during the Tuesday loss, when his hand got stepped on by Indiana big man Cody Zeller.
A team spokesman said both would be limited in practice Friday, and their status would be a game-day decision. (Bullock said he's hoping to play, although catching the ball is still an issue.)
Their health and availability are key, because they are two of the Tar Heels’ biggest offensive threats. Hairston is third on the team in scoring (10.8 ppg) and is 12-for-34 from 3-point range this season. Bullock leads the team in 3s (16-34), and is second in scoring at 11.6 ppg.
TWO FAMILIAR FACES
It’s going to be a little odd, seeing Jerod Haase and Bobby Frasor on the visitor’s bench. Haase, UAB’s first-year head coach, played for Williams at Kansas, then served as an assistant coach there before following Williams to Chapel Hill in 2003. Frasor, a Tar Heels guard from 2005-09, is the Blazers’ first-year director of basketball operations.
Haase told al.com that he knows his return will be emotional, but he also appreciates the fact that he is returning so soon. The game is part of a three-year deal with UNC, and Williams supported the series from the get-go.
"I would have begged him, but I didn't need to," Haase told the site. "He put it out there for me and knew it would really help our program. It goes back to show the kind of person he is.
"Not many teams like North Carolina are willing to do that. If it wasn't Coach Williams, I would be surprised. It's the kind of thing he does for his former players and coaches."
Losing was bad enough, but it’s the way the Tar Heels lost to Butler and Indiana that bugged Williams the most. He questioned their physical toughness -- on the backboards, getting to loose balls, setting screens -- when they fell behind by as many as 29 points to Butler in the Maui Invitational.
And he questioned their mental toughness when they got behind at Indiana and seemed to panic.
“Toughness can be shown so many different ways,” Williams said after the 83-59 loss at the top-ranked Hoosiers. “Again, I think toughness is the mental approach that ‘OK, we’ve missed three shots in a row; let’s make sure this is a great shot.’ And I think we rushed them a little bit."
Look for UNC to begin this three-game homestand focused and aggressive. Or else.