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February 14, 2012Last season Harrison Barnes sank a dramatic 3-point shot with less than seven seconds left to lift Carolina to a 74-71 victory at Miami.
Wednesday at 8 p.m., the eighth-ranked Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2 in the ACC) return to Coral Gables, and this time Carolina will face a Miami team far superior to the one UNC needed that last-second bucket to beat.
The Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4) have played outstanding basketball since losing 73-56 to Carolina at the Smith Center on Jan. 10. Miami has gone 6-2 since that game, a string that includes a victory against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The game will be televised on ESPN.
Carolina will take a team to Miami that has been ranked as high as No. 1 in the country and now lower than eighth this season. But it is also a team that is struggling with injuries at the moment. Shooting guard Leslie McDonald has missed the entire season. Starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing knee surgery.
Now freshman shooting guard P.J. Hairston has a sore left foot, which forced him to miss UNC's game against Virginia on Saturday. He wore a protective boot. He may well miss this game against Miami.
Barnes has been less than 100 percent for several games because of a sprained ankle that continues to be aggravated by Barnes playing on it.
"On Saturday, not saying our bench needs to score 35 points or anything, but when they come in, they have to help us," Coach Roy Williams said. "They have to rebound; they have to defend, and they have to set screens. And yes, if they can score, there's no question we would like that as well. But guys coming off the bench have to give us something positive.
So when forward James Michael McAdoo, point guard Stilman White and senior Justin Watts all provided what was probably their finest performances of the season against Virginia, the timing could not have been better.
"Our bench, which everyone thought was going to be the deepest team since the rocks cooled, needless to say, has gotten thinner and thinner and thinner," Williams said. "So those guys are extremely important to us.
"James Michael [McAdoo], the last, I don't know, three or four games, he's played better. We need him to continue on that upswing and get even more positive with his contributions."
No one is performing better than senior forward Tyler Zeller, who continues to play worthy someone who could be named ACC player of the year. He scored 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds, passed three assists and had three steals in a 70-52 victory against Virginia.
Zeller is fifth in the league in scoring at 16 points per game, second in the ACC in field goal percentage at 55 percent, ninth in blocked shots (1.4 per game) and third in rebounds at 9.6 per game.
On top of his heroics on the basketball court, Zeller won a prestigious post-graduate scholarship from the ACC for his academic success.
"Tyler Zeller is the epitome of what a student athlete at the University of North Carolina should be," Williams said. "He's having a great, great year."
This game will present two big challenges for Carolina. First of all, UNC has struggled at times on the road this season. That appeared to change with a come-from-behind victory at Maryland in its last road game.
The other is maintaining focus for all 40 minutes of a game. The Tar Heel will need to play well at Miami and do so until the horn sounds if it wishes to win.
"The Duke game, we relaxed a little bit and made a lot of mental errors in the last three minutes," Zeller said. "That is something we can't afford to do. That is something we're working on, we're trying to get better at and push it even higher."
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