Kansas’ defense created problems for North Carolina in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Expect the Jayhawks to try to do the same thing Sunday – for an obvious reason.
“Defense is that we do best,” KU center Jeff Withey said. “We try to muddy up the game for the other team.”
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Things were murky for the Tar Heels in losing 80-67 to KU in last year’s regional final in St. Louis. Carolina made 2 of 17 three-pointers.
KU comes into Sunday’s game leading the nation in field-goal defense, holding opponents to 36.8-percent shooting.
“They play a saggy defense,” UNC guard Reggie Bullock said. “They don’t really get out and deny the ball. They try to make you get out of your sets.
“Last year, they took us out of things we wanted to run. Hopefully, this year will be a better outcome.”
The Tar Heels have gone against some strong defensive teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, including Virginia and Maryland.
They split the season series with Virginia but scored 93 points in their victory over the Terps. They defeated Maryland three times.
“We have to be patient against Kansas and not take bad shots,” point guard Marcus Paige said. “We have to do what we do best, and that’s move the ball and share the ball.”
No tightness allowed
KU coach Bill Self described the Jayhawks as playing tight in beating 16-seed Western Kentucky.
Since then the KU players have had a chat among themselves.
“We came together and said we can’t be nervous,” Withey said. “This is our time to shine.”
Seen this before
North Carolina is using a four-guard lineup this year, stretching the defense to create more open shots.
That’s also what KU saw in beating Iowa State three times this year, although two of those victories came in overtime.
“There are some similarities in personnel,” KU coach Bill Self said, “except they’ve got a guy who can really stretch it.”
That would be 6-foot-5 guard P.J. Hairston, who is hitting almost 40 percent from three-point range.
Paige is the eighth Tar Heel to start as a freshman at point guard from the first game. He joins a list that includes Phil Ford, Kenny Smith, Quentin Smith and Bobby Frasor.
Ty Lawson just missed making the list because he didn’t start until his fifth game.
So it’s hardly unusual for a freshman to be put in that position. But that doesn’t make a coach any less nervous about putting the game in the hands of someone so young.
“It’s not easy to win with a freshman point guard because there’s so many things he hasn’t seen,” Williams said.
Paige, a skinny 6-footer from Marion, Iowa, averages 8.1 points. He has 158 assists to 82 turnovers, putting him fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in assist-turnover ratio.
Williams had his own long list of freshmen starting at point guard for him at Kansas: Jacque Vaughn, Aaron Miles, Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich.
And Lawson started for Williams at North Carolina.
“We’re a little more complicated than other people,” Williams said of his offense. “I give the point guard more responsibilities than other people.
“I knew with Marcus I had a kid who was very intelligent and great basketball savvy.”
Not that Paige feels like a freshman.
“I feel like I’ve been playing forever,” he said. “About 10 games ago, I felt like a seasoned veteran.”
— Rick Plumlee