Monday, February 15, 2010

Heads or tails? You call it.

When North Carolina hosted Duke last Wednesday, things just weren't the same.

Sure, the Tar Heels have had a forgettable year, but the beauty of a rivalarly like the one shared between these two universities is that no season is ever a lost cause if the other remains to be played.

And while UNC played inspired basketball and kept the game competitive for about 36 minutes, there was a subtle sign that seemed, to me, to personfiy North Carolina's misfortune this season.

I think it happened around the 8-minute mark. I can't seem to tell from the play-by-play. But Deon Thompson made a basket to tie the game, really swaying the momentum in UNC's favor. Then, the ball bounced away, prompting a whistle from the referee. It just so happened that that whistle was timed such that a media timeout ensued, thus thwarting a rally before it even had the chance to begin.

Now, I'm not saying that the blame for the Tar Heels' collapse down the stretch is or should be atttributed to that. But it is interesting to note that, when things aren't going your way – no matter what team you are, turning the tide isn't always a matter of X's and O's.

It was the first time this season that North Carolina coach Roy Williams rode his horses for the duration. Freshman John Henson showed promise, Sophomore Larry Drew II showed poise at times, and the Tar Heels, as a whole, largely avoided issues that have plagued them all season – despite a strong defensive effort from the Blue Devils.

Duke scored just five points off turnovers. Five.

The Tar Heels gave the ball away just 12 times, and scored more points on the break, more points in the paint, and got more points off the bench.

Yet after that ill-timed media whistle, UNC scored just nine points, two of which came on a meaningless jumper by Drew II in the game's final seconds.

Make no mistake about it. The teams that are good win. But they don't always win on talent and execution. Sometimes the ball has to bounce your way. Hell, N.C. State and Duke each won a national championship thanks to plays that leave people scratching their heads to this day.

I'm really not trying to degrade either accomplishment. Who's to say that North Carolina would have a banner in 1982 were it not for an ill-advised pass to James Worthy?

My point is this: When you're hot, you're hot.

But that's a two-sided coin.