So you are P.J. Hairston and you score 23 points and collect eight rebounds on Wednesday night against Duke. How do you follow that up? Well by scoring 29 points and grabbing seven rebounds against one of the best defensive teams in the country. I think it is safe to say, Hairston is going to start the rest of the season.
The Tar Heels got off to another slow start while Virginia was extremely efficient hitting shots early on to take a 13-4 lead. In fact Virginia really didn't cool off the rest of the game hitting 58% from the floor and going 12-21 from three. At this point I am not entirely sure how much the small lineup contributed to the defensive issues in this game. Virginia wasn't doing much damage on the interior but rather hitting threes. Some of those were a result of missed rotations or switches and Hairston was guilty in some of those instances. Some of them were contested shots that went in. The Cavaliers' Joe Harris went for 27 points and was pretty well defended most of the game. So, the jury is probably out to some extent on how the defense performs with this lineup and credit to Virginia which is a tough to to guard because they execute fairly well.
This game was one by a big offensive explosion from UNC. Virginia came in with the 11th best defense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy. UNC posted an offensive efficiency of 138.8. Going 13-28 from three helps. Also going 22-30 from the free throw line is a huge boost UNC has missed at times this season. Besides Hairston's 29 points, UNC got 17 points from Marcus Paige who, like many freshmen, plays well at home. Dexter Strickland score 12 points and by my count only took two jumpers, neither of them problematic(i.e. they were open and in his range.) Strickland drove the ball much the same way he did last season and dished out six assists. Reggie Bullock had a solid game with 11 points and four assists despite chasing Harris around most of the game. James Michael McAdoo registered 10 rebounds and scored nine points on 4-10 shooting.
In terms of NCAA Tournament hopes, this was a huge win, especially because Virginia is one of the teams UNC is in direct competition with for a bid. Also of note is Roy Williams kept the rotations tight. Brice Johnson and Leslie McDonald were the only two players off the bench to play double-digit minutes. Desmond Hubert made a brief appearance with some positive contributions. Jackson Simmons played some and caused at least two turnovers simply by moving his feet and cutting off the baseline on a pair of Virginia drives.
The small lineup is by no means perfect and odds are the shots won't always be falling. That means these guys will need to dig a little deeper and defend better than they did today. However, this lineup appears to be the best chance at competing and winning. There will still be ups and downs but for now you have to like UNC's chances going forward.