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UNC 60, UAB 55: Escape to New York

Well, this Carolina team continues to surprise. After being left for dead, they’ve managed to go into two road environments known for having tough crowds and pull out gutty wins with some clutch play down the stretch. Doesn’t even sound like the same Heels team, does it?

That’s because in a lot of respects, the squad out there now doesn’t really look like the same Heels team. Much has been made of John Henson’s progression, and Larry Drew’s clutch play in these last few games, both of which are surprising and great to witness, but just as nice to see has been the Seniors on this team stepping up when they are needed and doing things like taking the young guys aside and saying something privately to them on the court - there’s no way to know what gets said in those moments, but at the very least that’s what leadership looks like, and it’s showing with an increased chemistry on the court, and, most notably, not letting opponents rack up a double-digit run on them at any point in the game. Deon Thompson was huge in this game, going for 14 and 12, most of those during key stretches when it seemed like the crowd was ready to explode if UAB could just string a few buckets together.

They couldn’t, and the crowd didn’t. Maybe some of the credit goes to UAB’s ball-control offense, which serves to simultaneously drain the game clock and the souls of anyone watching it in action. I wrote this on twitter, but it bears repeating: after watching a few minutes of Texas Tech-Ole Miss, then seeing UAB in action, I suddenly felt like I had a lot more perspective on how “bad” this season has been - man, those are some maddening teams to watch. But of course, so were we as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

And maybe that’s the best thing we can say about what’s happening right now. Fans aren’t tearing their hair out watching these games, and if nothing else the players have at least gained a little confidence for next year and are finishing the season on a positive note. It’s nice to feel good about our basketball team again.

Now it’s on to New York for the NIT semifinals, and our third straight season in the a Final Four!