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February 24, 2008CHAPEL HILL - Hearing North Carolina's players talk after the game, you would have thought they had just suffered a loss.
But in reality they had just finished up an 89-73 win against Wake Forest, albeit one that left them plenty disappointed with the way they played.
The Tar Heels (26-2, 11-2 in the ACC) weren't fired up about Tyler Hansbrough's 29 points.
They weren't puffing their chests out over the 14-rebound advantage they had in the game.
They weren't celebrating the 56 percent shooting day they had against the Demon Deacons (16-9, 6-6 in the ACC), who came into the game on a three-game winning streak, including an upset win over Duke.
And they certainly weren't glad to simply be winning in point guard Ty Lawson's sixth straight game out of the lineup.
Instead, they were focused on their own shortcomings, ones that could have tripped them up but never did in this game.
"I just think it shows where we're trying to go," Hansbrough said. "We've got big dreams. I think we could have done some things better on both ends."
The high shooting percentage helped offset 20 turnovers and lapses on the defensive end.
UNC too often let Wake's guard penetrate and then kick the ball outside for open looks, helping the Demon Deacons to shoot better than 48 percent in the game.
"If we didn't hit shots, I think it would be a totally different game," said forward Danny Green, who was 4-for-7 for 15 points.
The fact that his team had only 17 assists against those 20 turnovers was especially disconcerting to UNC coach Roy Williams.
"I don't think you can have that kind of ratio and be a great team," Williams said. "We want to be a great team."
Of course a 16-point win isn't going to be all bad news.
The Tar Heels followed the formula that has worked for them in Lawson's absence, a stretch that includes a current five-game winning streak.
First and foremost, it's about getting the ball inside to Hansbrough.
The big man is averaging 28 points in the games with Lawson out of the lineup and his performance against the Deacs pushed him past Brad Daugherty into eighth place on UNC's all-time career scoring list.
"He is a terrific player, and I just love the kid," Wake coach Dino Gaudio said. "I hope he is the player of the year in the country. He deserves it."
When Hansbrough doesn't directly produce points, his presence creates open shots for guys like Wayne Ellington (17 points) and Green to score easily.
And Quentin Thomas, the erstwhile third-string point guard, simply has to make sure the offense runs smoothly until Lawson and his blazing speed are back.
Obviously, all of those things happened against the Deacs, and that's why the Tar Heels' misdeeds didn't come back to haunt them.
"It definitely speaks about the talent that's on this team," Marcus Ginyard said. "But the flip side of that is in March, you're not going to win it on talent. It's one of those double-edged swords."
Still, the Tar Heels have to be happy that the portion of their talent that's not laid up is good enough to win games even on a subpar night.
Guys like Green and Alex Stepheson chipped in well in supporting roles against Wake Forest. Stepheson played 19 minutes because of Deon Thompson's limitation due to lingering knee problems.
"I should have held Deon out," Williams said. "He's trying in practice, but he doesn't have the same energy (in games) that he does in practice."
But even on a so-called "bad" night for the Tar Heels, they're glad to get yet another win before enjoying a six-day break they hope will bring some healing.
"Coach always stresses that no matter who's playing, it's North Carolina," Hansbrough said. "I think that's really carried over for us. You can't say, 'Oh, guys are hurt' and give up."