News & Notes from Hubert Davis Ahead of Notre Dame’s Visit to UNC

CHAPEL HILL, NC — North Carolina coach Hubert Davis met with reporters Friday afternoon as part of a media availability ahead of the Tar Heels’ ACC basketball game Saturday against visiting Notre Dame (11:30 am, ESPN2).

UNC is coming off its 88-79 defeat of Wake Forest from Wednesday night, a win powered by the Tar Heels’ 51-point second half on 60-percent shooting from the field. RJ Davis scored 27 points, pumping in 22 during the second half. UNC (10-5 overall, 2-2 ACC) went smaller throughout the game’s final 14 minutes with the three-guard lineup of Seth Trimble, Caleb Love and Davis alongside forward Leaky Black and big man Armando Bacot, a move necessitated in some ways. by Pete Nance’s back issue. Nance started Wednesday night, but played less than two minutes.

Notre Dame (8-7, 0-4) lost 70-63 at Boston College on Tuesday night, has dropped five of its last six games, and has only beaten Jacksonville since Dec. 7. Here are our running notes from what Davis said Friday at the Smith Center…

– Nance (sore/stiff back) will play Saturday if he’s feeling up to it, Davis said. “His back has improved every day” since the Wake Forest game, Davis said. The forward Nance started as usual that night, but had to be replaced after just 1:56 of game time.

Davis said Nance’s back had not posed any problem in the period between UNC’s Dec. 30 loss at Pittsburgh and Wednesday night. “I wasn’t even thinking about it” becoming a problem, Davis said. But Nance was grimacing immediately after the jump ball that tipped off the Wake Forest game.

– The minutes that forwards Jalen Washington and Justin McKoy logged off the UNC bench after Nance exited against Wake Forest “really helped us,” Davis said. Washington was the first sub the Tar Heels called on, at the 18:04 mark of the first half. His face-up jumper on the baseline provided UNC’s largest lead of the first half at 26-18.

Davis praised McKoy’s defense. “He had energy, effort and enthusiasm out there on the floor,” Davis said. McKoy played a season-high 17 minutes and contributed two points and two rebounds. Washington had two points and two rebounds, and was limited to a degree by picking up three fouls.

McKoy “always has been someone who works extremely hard, always has been someone’s who’s prepared for whenever his number is called,” Davis said. “That’s why he’s so valuable for us.”

– Davis said “it’s important to understand who you’re playing” in assessing Saturday’s matchup against an older and experienced Notre Dame team. The Fighting Irish have four veteran starters who have stayed with the program as graduates. “Their lineup, they’ve been through it before,” Davis said. “They’ve been in tough situations.”

Davis called Notre Dame a skilled passing team. With the 6-foot-4 JJ Starling, 6-5 Cormac Ryan, 6-5 Trey Wertz and 6-6 Dane Goodwin on the court, the Irish can switch on defense at multiple positions, Davis said.

— UNC forced Wake Forest into seven second-half turnovers, with five of them occurring during the game’s final nine minutes and leading to scores for the Tar Heels in transition. UNC finished with a 32-8 advantage in fastbreak points.

Does Davis view that three-guard lineup of Trimble, Love and RJ Davis paired with Black and Bacot as having delivered a defensive breakthrough? “I wouldn’t look at it as a breakthrough,” Davis said, “but I would look at it as a blueprint for how we can play defense.”

Davis said that the group supplied sturdy on-ball defense and played with physicality, energy and effort. “Probably one of the best, if not the best, stretches defensively that we’ve played all year,” Davis said. “It allowed us to be even better and more efficient on the offensive end.”

– Davis said the senior Bacot has stepped up his communication and leadership, “which I have loved.” Bacot has become a guiding voice when UNC huddles, Davis said, adding that’s an area where he has encouraged Bacot to expand his influence.

Bacot leads ACC players in scoring and rebounding on the season. He has averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds across the last six games, since returning from the bruised right shoulder that forced him to miss the Tar Heels’ Dec. 4 loss at Virginia Tech. Davis said Bacot is running the floor with more purpose and working harder to create position in the low post earlier in possessions. “Those two areas, I think, have drastically gotten better since he came back from the injury,” Davis said.

— Love has hit just 7-for-28 from 3-point range across the previous four games, including 3-for-17 in the last three games. “I don’t even look at it like Caleb is having a (rough) stretch,” Davis said Friday. “I don’t look at Caleb that way. Caleb is a basketball player. He can dominate and change a game in many different areas, not just shooting.”

Davis said Love put forth a special performance on defense Wednesday night, primarily when matched up against Wake Forest guard Tyree Appleby (16 points on 5-for-15 from the field). “That’s why I think he’s going to have a long NBA career,” Davis said. “He can do a number of different things, it’s not just dominate with his scoring or his 3-point shooting.”

– “I’m not a New Year’s resolution guy,” Davis said. “I’ve just never been that.” But if the UNC coach was to make a decision, he said it would be for the Tar Heels to achieve their full potential and grow into the best team they can be, and then live with the results of where this season’s journey takes them.

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