For North Carolina, the way to spell relief after an 0-2 start in ACC play was V-I-R-G-I-N-I-A.
Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and Danny Green were the key elements in an 83-61 victory in which UNC returned to playing "Carolina basketball," and a collective sigh of relief was released by the fans in Chapel Hill and Tar Heel coach Roy Williams, to be sure.
The formula is not difficult.
1. Ty Lawson, take care of the ball and get back to the form that allowed you to lead the nation in turnover to assist ratio. Get the ball to Hansbrough (see No. 2). Please, please move your feet on defense.
2. Tyler Hansbrough, flail that gigantic booty around as well as your 16 arms and elbows. Get in the lane, grab rebounds, act like the opponent stole your favorite childhood toy out of your garage (the basketball), and get it back. Keep going up and grabbing the ball until they can do nothing more than hack you, and then punish them by hitting more than 80 percent of your free throws.
3. Danny Green, have fun. Stroke the threes, but only when it's appropriate. Block shots like you were six inches taller than you actually are. Make smart passes on the break. Dance like no one is watching.
4. Ed Davis (and others), keep doing your thing from the bench. You have no idea how important you are going to be in March. Your six-point, seven-rebound effort was solid. But, hey, Bench, what the heck happened to you during that mass substitution in the first half? You need to at least maintain a lead and let some guys get some rest.
5. (BONUS) Unnamed ESPN color commentator (you know who you are), please stop doing that stupid thing with your voice at the end of sentences. I realize you think it's your signature "thing," and that I have no hope of such a cessation actually coming to fruition, but do you have any idea how annoying it is?
Also, would you mind taking a stand and sticking to it? When UNC is up by 20, the game is over and you're talking about their next opponent, but when Virginia scores a couple of baskets and cuts it to 16, it's a game again? Huh? Do you have any idea how unpopular you are?
Now, it would be nice if Wayne Ellington would get that smooth shot to return, and it will, eventually. He was at least involved in the game more than he was against Boston College, driving to the basket several times and getting to the foul line seven times. Still, he shot .400 from the field, which is not good enough.
Deon Thompson, after an incredible start to the season, has tended to disappear for large chunks of the game lately. Four points and five rebounds will not get it done against the cream of the crop in the ACC.
But this night was all about Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. Did anyone see Hansbrough's shoulders, by the way? He has put on some serious added muscle from last year, and it doesn't look to be impeding his free throw percentage.
Hansbrough got to the line an astounding 17 times last night, hitting 15 of his attempts (.882). He got there through grit, hustle, and just wanting the ball more.
No one on the Heels fills up a stat sheet like Danny Green. He tallied 13 points on five of 13 shooting (though he was just 1-4 from behind the arc) and added six rebounds (three of them offensive), four assists, two steals, and three blocks. He also ran the break with excellence, helping Lawson's performance as well.
Lawson, for his part, shot .700 from the field (7-10), including 3-for-3 from three-point land, 1.000 from the free throw line (2-2), and dished out nine assists while committing exactly zero turnovers.
Marcus Ginyard, we eagerly await your return.
Not all was perfect, and thankfully it doesn't have to be against Virginia.
The Heels shot just .422 from the field as a team. Fortunately, no one from Virginia could muster more than 12 points, as the Wahoos shot a miserable .305. North Carolina actually played solid defense last night, and it paid off.
Virginia is better than they showed earlier in the season, but they ran into a team frustrated by an 0-2 start. As ESPN felt the need to point out at least a dozen times during last night's broadcast, UNC started 0-3 in ACC play during the 1997-98 season under Dean Smith and made it to the Final Four, so no one in Chapel Hill was too panicked.
The dream is very much alive if North Carolina just follows the formula. I will be the first to admit that it's easier said than done.
You can also read this article on my UNC Blog at Carolina Tar Heel Blue.