CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- After North Carolina dropped an ugly game to Georgia Tech on Saturday, coach Roy Williams said this was "the least gifted" team he has had. If the Tar Heels were going to use that comment for motivation, it didn't last Wednesday.
"People will say what they say about us," UNC senior Brandon Robinson said. "But we're going to come out and compete. It's not like we don't care and we're giving up. We're going to try to make a change."
Williams didn't back down from his comments and suggested that, indeed, North Carolina played with little energy in the second half as a large lead slipped away amid cascading turnovers and a suddenly electric Panthers offense.
Williams said his assessment of the Tar Heels' talent was "the truth" and suggested the media was sensationalizing an honest evaluation.
"I just made a statement. If anybody in here disagrees with it, that's your prerogative, But my guess is, if you look at it, you'd probably agree," Williams said. "... To me, that's the most ridiculous thing to get attention. It's like me wearing lucky socks or something. You've got to play the damn game."
Inside the locker room, players said they didn't exactly disagree with Williams' take.
"When I saw it, I felt like it was kind of true, honestly," freshman Armando Bacot said. "I don't think Coach means no harm by it. He still believes in us. But he's just keeping it real."
Bacot, UNC's lone McDonald's All American with Cole Anthony still recovering from knee surgery, was 6-of-11 for 15 points and nine boards, a nice step up after some recent struggles in which he said he was "fighting the voice in my head."
"We're struggling right now, and we're not talented enough for me to do that," Bacot said. "I knew that wasn't me, and I had to turn it around."
But even the strong performances left Williams frustrated. Garrison Brooks finished with a team-high 21 points, but a late turnover was at the forefront of Williams' mind. Williams said the team practiced well in recent days, but the performance Wednesday was, at times, lethargic. He said the team even added two new offensive schemes this week, to no avail.
"Could you tell it?" Williams asked rhetorically. "I couldn't. We played just as dang bad as we did before."
Robinson said the team remains confident and is still focused on making -- and winning -- the NCAA tournament. At this point, however, UNC is just 8-7, and Williams' assessment of the talent on the floor looks like a stinging projection of those tourney hopes.
"He's been around a lot of great teams, and that's his opinion," Robinson said. "I don't want that to be our narrative."