Vintage Roy Williams in win No. 700
North Carolina blows 20-point lead before holding on in the second half
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The string of Roy Williams’ greatest hits just kept on coming Friday night.
• At least once the 62-year old North Carolina coach had one of his “spells” on the sideline against Villanova. You’ve got to know Roy. Sometimes he gets up too fast while crouching near the bench. The light-headedness makes him pause to compose himself. It’s his thing. There is nothing to worry about. Williams has been doing this for his 25 years as a head coach.
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• With slightly less than 16 minutes left in Friday’s 78-71 win over the Wildcats in a South regional opener, Williams was so upset at his five players on the floor that he subbed in a new five. Again, another Roy trademark -- the hockey line change. The bench jockeys played for a minute and a half. The motivational message had been sent.
• Any milestone for Williams wouldn’t be complete without another trademark: His whining. In the middle of the postgame press conference, in the middle of a lifetime achievement, Williams became upset that it was all about him. Never mind he had his 700th career win came with a team that looked aimless in January.
“Whoever made that decision, tell them I think it stinks,” said Williams, whose players were required to linger on the podium while the media asked about No. 700. “Tell the tournament committee that’s one dumbest damn things they’ve ever done.”
Ah, vintage Roy. Some things never change. And sometimes Williams reminds that for all of his habits, there’s a reason he could still do this for 10 more years and maybe get close to 1,000 wins. He plays a brand of basketball that kids enjoy. None of this half-court crap for Roy. Not on purpose. Sure, he has to play it to match up at times but it isn’t his base offense.
He recruits to get up and down the court. His teams have led the country in scoring. He plays almost everyone on the bench to keep the intensity and scoring up. Eleven Tar Heels played on Friday, seven of them at least 11 minutes.
You might have noticed the man has won a couple of national championships. He has won 700 like the way his teams have played -- fast, in only 879 games. That makes Roy the fastest active coach to the milestone.
Soon after Williams wrote “32” on the dry-erase board -- the number of teams left in the tournament -- junior Reggie Bullock grabbed the marker and wrote “700.”
“Coach is awesome, he’s a great guy,” guard Marcus Paige said. “He cares 100 percent about this team. He didn’t bring up the 700 thing at all. We feel special to be part of this run he’s had.”
The run began in 1988 when he was a no-name assistant for Dean Smith hired at Kansas. How no-name. Then-AD Bob Frederick took his share of crap for hiring Williams. In a moment of indulgence, the coach allowed himself to reminisce. That 1988-’89 team couldn’t go to the tournament, paying for the sins of Larry Brown who left the Jayhawks on probation.
Win No. 1 came against Alaska-Anchorage in the Great Alaska Shootout. Williams/Kansas then beat Cal and lost to the Seton Hall team that played in the Final Four that season.
With a depleted lineup Williams won 19 games to start his head coaching career.
“I just wondered if I was going to be the coach at the end of the year,” he said.
No one is going to compare these current Tar Heels with some of Williams’ greatest. The season started with the loss of four of the top 17 picks in the NBA draft. The Heels sat at 10-5 when Williams figured he had to make a change. Six-foot-nine Desmond Hubert was replaced with 6-5 P.J. Hairston. The four-guard look made the Heels sleeker and more dangerous.
With those four guards and no true post, they were going to live and die by the 3 and struggle to rebound. Villanova got back in the game Friday because of a 37-28 advantage on the boards.
On Friday, Williams’ team blew a 20-point first-half lead, then hung on to extend a season that looked lost two months ago. Since the change they are 15-5. Even with that, North Carolina fans proved themselves as fickle as any. They filled a mere section of the 18,000-seat Sprint Center for the dinnertime start of the 8-9 game.
No, it isn’t a vintage Carolina team. Vintage Roy, though, isn’t going anywhere.
“I want to get 800,” Williams said. “I’d like to 900, 1000, 1,500. I know that’s not going to happen. My focus was not on that. It was trying to get 25 and get this team to stay and play another game.”
After winning 25 for the seventh time in Williams' 10 seasons, the Heels look almost formidable. They blew that 32-12 first-half lead and found themselves tied 40-40 early in the second half. Time for the hockey line change. Villanova then went on to take its first lead since early in the game.
“Part of it was , ‘Hey, gut-check time. You can’t just coast through and expect to win,’" Paige said. “It was more of a motivational thing.”
A lot of a motivational thing. Shortly thereafter, Carolina made a 16-7 run to pull away.
“I wouldn’t say panic,” said Hairston who contributed 23 points. “We were concerned. They were basically hitting us in the mouth. … That [lineup change] was motivational because we didn’t expect it. We knew why he took us out. We weren’t playing hard enough.”
A team that had been averaging 7.5 3s, made 11. Carolina finished the game making its last seven shots. Williams took stock of the milestone, then shoved it aside like he does the “spells,” lollygagging players and a bureaucratic tournament committee.
“Seven-hundred means I’ve been coaching a long time,” the coach said. “I’ve had some really, really good players.”
In case you missed it, that also was vintage Roy.
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