Welter: Cinderella awaits, but Carolina has found its “gift”

26 March 2022

Encanto is the new Frozen. I guess Carolina is the new Carolina???

Like every parent these days the Encanto sound track has overtaken my home and my car rides. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a welcome reprieve from “Let it Go”. I will say my rendition of “Lost in the Woods” was almost ready for public consumption. Just a bit out of my range still.

We grow tired of the same songs, the same way we grow tired of the same teams, however this March UNC feels surprisingly fresh. Maybe it’s Hubert Davis. His positive approach has shades of television’s “Ted Lasso”, although Davis describes himself as more of a missionary.

“It’s just not about me at all,” Davis said after a 73-66 win over UCLA. “Coaching is an act of service. It’s about helping and coaching and teaching these kids on and off the court and just trying to help them out.

Davis’ encouragement after back to back 20 plus point losses to Miami and Wake Forest has been described as a pivotal moment of the season by players like Leaky Black.

“The next practice Coach Davis came in super positive and we were not expecting that at all,” Black said Thursday in Philadelphia. “We we were expecting him to come in hot and chew us out kind of thing, but I feel like he was super positive and that was a turning point for us.”

Coming up small in big moments was Carolina’s identity for a lot of the season. Despite a second place finish in the ACC regular season, they were considered a bubble team until they beat No. 4 Duke at Cameron. Before that game UNC was 1-3 versus ranked opponents. They lost to No. 6 Purdue, No. 17 Tennessee, and No. 21 Kentucky by an average of 18 points. The back to back losses to Miami and Wake Forest were the programs first back to back 20 plus point ACC losses since UNC went 8-20 in 2001.

“That was a long time ago,” Davis cut off a question Friday about his team’s losses earlier this season. “I apologize. I’m serious. We won now 15 out of the last 18 games? That Wake Forest game was in January. As I told you before — and I apologize, I’m a positive guy. I’m a positive guy. These guys have won, what is it, nine out of the last 10, 15 out of the last 18, and we’re going to talk about a game in January?”

As my colleague Chris Lea joked on WRAL earlier this season, Carolina doesn’t talk about Matt Doherty era basketball like they don’t talk about Encanto’s estranged mystical uncle Bruno, Hubert Davis doesn’t talk about Wake Forest anymore either. And why should he??? He’s correct they have won 15 of 18 games.  Sure there’s a blip versus Pitt in there (Davis said he wasn’t nice after that one).  There isn’t much point talking about January when we can talk about March.  This month UNC spoiled Coach K’s final game at Cameron, they beat defending champion Baylor and just upset a 2021 Final Four team in UCLA. It’s almost like Carolina is Mirabel Madrigal. They’ve finally found their gift.

“Everybody has brought together their piece,” Davis said at Saturday’s press conference. “Collectively it has brought together a health, a togetherness about this team that has put us in a position to play our best basketball over the last two months. It’s been really fun to see.”

Caleb Love has dedicated this season to his grandfather

Next an opponent who is truly living a Disney movie. St. Peter’s is the first 15 seed to ever make the Elite 8. They’ve knocked off Kentucky, Murray State, and Purdue. Their head coach Shaheen Halloway is becoming a hot name on the coaching carousel. His players are getting NIL deals. Peacock’s have never been more popular. Fans from New Jersey are flooding Philadelphia and wearing their minor league baseball looking apparel with pride.

“I mean, they’re a great team,” Caleb Love said Saturday. “They’re here for a reason. We don’t really pay attention to Cinderella or the seeding or whatever. We’re going to treat them as such. They’re another team that’s in our way.”

If UNC can turn Cinderalla’s carriage back into a pumpkin, and Duke can beat Arkansas coach Eric Mussellman and all of his Diet Coke, the Battle of the Blues III awaits in New Orleans. ‘

“Well, you know,” Davis tensed up when I asked him about his team overlooking St. Peter’s for a rematch with Duke. “One of the things that I’ve talked to the guys a lot is I’ve given them this Bible verse, Proverbs 4:25, and it’s to keep your eyes straight ahead, ignore all sideshow distractions. So what’s straight ahead is Saint Peter’s.”

Fans and media couldn’t help but fawn over the potential trilogy at the ACC Tournament, then Virginia Tech happened. We got a Frozen 2. I’m sure we’ll get a 3, maybe even an Encanto 2 complete with a fresh sound track for my car rides around Cary, NC. Just don’t get too excited, St. Peter’s has found it’s gift too. UNC suddenly has that drip, drip, drip pressure.

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