NEW YORK – UNC basketball coach Hubert Davis believes in the growth of the Tar Heels.
Davis was encouraged by the fight of No. 9 UNC in its 87-76 loss to No. 5 UConn in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
But in the press room late Tuesday night, the third-year coach – along with veteran leaders Armando Bacot and RJ Davis – highlighted the need for UNC to improve an area of weakness the reigning national champions exposed at the Garden.
“I just want to be a better rebounding team,” said Hubert Davis, whose team was out-rebounded 43-33 against the Huskies (8-1).
“I think going into the game, we’re a little bit under plus-7 rebounds. I want to be at least over plus-10 rebounding. Rebounding is the biggest key.”
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It’s one of three boxes Davis likes to see checked, along with defending and taking care of the ball. The Tar Heels (7-2) struggled in those areas, too, against UConn. Still, rebounding was the main topic of discussion in the locker room.
Under Davis, UNC is 51-15 when it wins the rebounding battle. The Tar Heels are 5-9 when they get beat on the boards.
In Davis’ first season, the Tar Heels finished second in the nation in opponent offensive rebounding percentage (21.6%), according to KenPom.com. UNC is 67th this season through nine games.
UConn only had eight second-chance points on its 11 offensive rebounds against the Heels, but the Huskies were able to get extra possessions with their pursuit on the glass.
“That’s what was killing us,” said RJ Davis, who finished with a game-high 26 points to go with four rebounds.
“They were able to get the long boards that led to second-chance points.”
In a separate interview, Bacot shared a similar sentiment: “I think the difference, really, was (UConn) killed us on the offensive boards. They got a lot of second-chance opportunities and they were knocking down a lot of shots.”
UNC is averaging 38.8 rebounds per game. The Tar Heels entered the year averaging at least 40 rebounds per game in eight of the past nine seasons. The 2016-17 squad set program records in rebounding margin (plus-12) and offensive rebounds (630) on its way to winning an NCAA title.
“I want to be one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Every day, we talk about (three players) getting to the offensive glass to be able to get second-chance opportunities. That’s just something I believe in,” Hubert Davis said.
“On the defensive end, just boxing out – making contact first – and limiting teams to one possession is just huge. Rebounding, if you can win that battle, you’re gonna put yourself in position whomever you play. We’ve gotta do a better job boxing out and making contact. And, once making contact, getting those loose balls and those second tips around the rim and around the free-throw line.”
In 2021-22, a season that ended with a national championship appearance, the Tar Heels averaged 41.2 rebounds and were plus-9 on the boards. Last season, UNC was plus-5 in rebounding margin and averaged 39.5 boards per game, missing the NCAA Tournament.
Before he wrapped up his postgame press conference at MSG, Hubert Davis was asked about the role determination plays in being a good rebounder.
“I think rebounding is will and want to. I think there’s some technique into it, but at the end of the day, the ball is up in the air, it’s a 50-50 loose ball and it’s the one who wants it more who gets it,” he said.
“You gotta be willing to do whatever — push, claw, bite — to be able to get that rebound. We’ve got really tough and resilient guys and this is something that we can grow from and we’ll improve on. We’ll be a better rebounding team the next time we play.”
Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at [email protected] or @RoddBaxley on X/Twitter.
First appeared on www.fayobserver.com