By R.L. Bynum
NEW ORLEANS — If you call Carolina soft, Armando Bacot is going to go hard against you.
Sportswriter Jeff Goodman discovered that Thursday during a Final Four press conference at the Superdome ahead of the Tar Heels’ Final Four matchup on Saturday against Duke (TBS).
After UNC (28–9) lost at home to Pittsburgh, Goodman went off on them during his “Field of 68” podcast. Among other criticisms, he called them soft. Goodman wasn’t alone and coach Hubert Davis acknowledged later in the press conference that the description was accurate earlier in the season.
But when Goodman, who writes for Stadium, asked Bacot about that criticism, he remembered Goodman’s words in particular.
“When you said it, it definitely pissed us all off. I’m not going to lie,” Bacot said with a smile. “Yeah, it was something — it was kind of upsetting just because I didn’t think we were really a soft team; I think we just weren’t playing together. We were going through tough stretches and growing pains as a team. We have a lot of new faces, a lot of new players, a new system we were implementing. We were just really figuring it out.”
Since that loss to the Panthers, Bacot said they have proven to the basketball world what he felt all along: that Carolina never was soft.
“But I feel like even getting to this point, we just showed how much further we are from being a soft team. We’re probably actually the toughest team,” said Bacot, who had some good-natured banter with Goodman at the end of the press conference, thanking him for saying what he did.
Goodman said he’d be happy to take credit or blame.
It’s evident that Bacot also probably heard about playing soft from Davis, who thanked Goodman for the critique that upset Bacot.
“I appreciate your comments, because they were right and they were real,” Davis said “And I think our guys have understood how hard and how tough and resilient you have to be to have a chance every day to play at this level.”
While you won’t convince Bacot that UNC was soft before its much-improved stretch since mid-February, he acknowledged that the Tar Heels flipped a switch at some point. Some believe that turning point came after that defeat against the Panthers, but Bacot said it was after the back-to-back road losses to Miami and Wake Forest.
He said there were multiple issues, including the inability to play defense together.
“We were just worried about stopping our man versus playing team basketball,” Bacot said. “Offensively, we were playing hero ball, just not playing together, not making extra passes, not setting the screen and rolling certain ways just because we didn’t think we’d get the ball, just little things like that.”
Carolina’s play on offense in March has been so different than earlier in the season, with some of the best passing of any team in the country, which has created more open shots for everybody.
“I think after that we just drew the line and said we have to stop being selfish,” Bacot said after the loss in Winston-Salem. “In order for us to get it done, we have to play together as a team. And I feel that’s what’s been helping us and getting us to this point.”
The way that the Tar Heels have played since mid-February, there is no more talk of them playing soft. If that happens and Bacot hears about it, expect the verbal equivalent of a slam dunk in response.
At Superdome, New Orleans
Saturday’s national semifinals
No. 2 Villanova (30–7) vs. No. 1 Kansas (32–6), 6:09, TBS
No. 2 Duke (32–6) vs. No. 8 North Carolina (28–9), 40 minutes after first semifinal, TBS
Semifinal winners, 9:20, TBS
Photo via @UNC_Basketball