I had the pleasure of attending the UNC-Nevada game on Dec. 31. My wife and I drove 10 hours from Idaho to Nevada so I could realize a life-long sports dream of seeing a UNC team play in person. I couldn't have picked a better year to finally do it, with UNC 12-0 and beating opponents by an average of 20 points per game.
We arrived early to watch warmups and I got to take pictures of the players warming up an hour before the game, except for Ty Lawson, who was the only player to not come out.
I watched Hansbrough get the superstar treatment and a trainer loosened him up for 10 minutes before he shot around. Ty Zeller looked good in a suit and tie, rebounding and passing the ball out to teammates but would have looked better in uniform. I got pictures of Danny Green, Ty Ellington, Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, and Bobby Frasor shooting around.
UNC players were loose and looked ready to have another blowout game. The other UNC fans, my wife and myself, were in awe and we all talked about the team and season like family even though we were from different parts of the country. I settled in and at tip-off was into the game.
Unfortunately, UNC started out like they did against Kansas, falling behind and playing with no intensity. Hansbrough was continually being beaten by Nevada's star freshman Luke Babbitt off the dribble and from the outside. Lawson played no defense and only Deon Thompson inside and Danny Green outside kept UNC close the first five plus minutes.
UNC only showed defensive tenacity in spurts and looked like the No. 1 team in the nation when they felt like it. I have read in some articles that UNC's defense was very good, which it was at times, but Nevada missed a lot of easy inside shots and open jumpers on their own that could have kept them closer in the first half and attributed to their low shooting percentage.
I know I am sounding negative regarding UNC's performance, yet I am being honest in my evaluations. If this was an ACC game and UNC played the same way they did against Nevada, they would have lost...badly.
Don't know if it was the long trip out west or something else, but even though I enjoyed the atmosphere, the company of fellow diehard UNC fans, the company of my wife and a win, I was disappointed with the lack of intensity and casual play of the team for most of the game.
If I had not watched the game and I was told UNC won by 23 points, I would have expected them to have played like they did in some of their previous wins. Don't get me wrong. I am a life-long, loyal, diehard UNC basketball fan, but I am also realistic when it comes to how they play and am not blinded by fan loyalty. I am going to give you some of my positives and negatives regarding the game and also postgame.
Ed Davis: Played tough on the inside altering and blocking shots plus rebounding very well. He took some good shots and almost got a double-double.
Wayne Ellington: Finally started taking the ball strong to the hoop getting fouled and opening up his outside shot opportunities. Played some solid defense on the perimeter fighting through screens and sticking with his man. His three pointer at the end of the first half was a thing of beauty.
Will Graves: Played solid offensively and defensively coming off the bench and ignited some fast breaks playing solid defense in the full court press.
Deon Thompson and Danny Green: Played solidly in the first half scoring and rebounding to keep UNC close and then ahead of Nevada. Green really stepped up his defense the second half making shots difficult for Babbitt and getting a monster block on a Nevada breakaway layup.
Lack of defensive intensity in the beginning of the game and in spurts throughout the game allowed Nevada to have a lead most of the first 10 minutes hang around.
Hansbrough: He had the quietest 22 points of his career and only three rebounds. As I mentioned before, anytime he guarded Babbitt, he got beat. Not a typical Hansbrough performance, as he looked sluggish.
Ty Lawson: Also a quiet performance offensively but did get five rebounds and dished out seven assists. He also lacked defensive intensity as his man repeatedly took him to the basket and scored on short jumpers.
His free throw-shooting was also poor, as he did not take advantage of getting fouled driving to the basket.
Turnovers hurt UNC at times and even though they achieved their season average, they came at some critical junctures. UNC also played Nevada's game as Nevada slowed the tempo down and packed it in the middle.
Many times UNC shot the ball from the outside within five-10 seconds into the shot clock. As small as Nevada's front line was (6'8", 6'8", 6'6"), UNC should have had a field day inside if the perimeter players would have worked the ball around. The middle was open continuously but was not utilized.
I am glad I had the opportunity to watch the possible National Champions play yet feel that they really need to work harder and play smarter when ACC play starts.
Conference play will truly show what UNC is made of what kind of shot they have at a National Title. I have to give the Nevada team credit for playing hard and not giving up even when the lead was twenty points or more.
The Nevada fans should be credited for the way they supported their team and also never gave up. All in all a good game and great experience, especially after the game for me.
There were about 20 UNC fans that stuck around after the game, mostly young kids. I stood by one of the doors that led to the locker rooms and waited to see what would happen. My patience paid off as Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington came out after they spoke at the postgame conference.
Feeling like a little kid, I still walked up to them and spoke with them briefly. I shook them by the hands and calmly walked away until I got to my wife which I then acted like a kid in a candy store. Hansbrough is a legitimate 6'9" and pretty buff. Ellington is about 6'4" and slender.
Roy Williams walked out and was very gracious to all the fans taking pictures with them and signing autographs. I spoke with him briefly and got his autograph. A great person and gentleman. Drew II and Deon Thompson came out but would not sign autographs for the kids. Pretty disappointing.
Bobby Frasor and Marc Campbell came out and signed autographs. The rest of the players stayed in the locker room. I walked around towards the scorer's table and there in all his 7'1" glory was Eric Montross wrapping up his commentary.
He stood up, looked down at me, said "hi" and started to walk away. I caught up to him and asked for his autograph as he was one of my all-time favorite players. He smiled and gave me his autograph.
All in all an awesome experience attending the game and meeting players and Roy Williams. Not that I want to, but I can die a happy UNC fan after this great experience. I also wish to thank my wife for providing me this opportunity. Now, bring on the ACC.
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