Focused. That is the word that best describes the state of the third-seeded Hurricanes as they prepare for their Sweet 16 matchup against second-seeded Villanova.
“We left all our celebrations in the locker room after the game,” junior guard Davon Reed said about the team’s reaction to beating Wichita State. “The goal is to win it all, so we are excited to be in the Sweet 16, but we are ready to move on.”
The Canes (25-7) have played with something to prove all season, often being overlooked by odds makers and TV analysts. “Once again, they have us losing. So that is another chip we have on our shoulder,” redshirt junior forward Kamari Murphy said.
Head Coach Jim Larrañaga is making sure his team has the right mindset in this tournament, taking it one game at a time. “He treats every game like it’s the championship, so we take on that same type of approach,” Reed said.
The ACC Coach of the Year has kept the team on track all season. He is known to use a variety of methods to connect with his players, even teaching them in ways that don’t involve basketball at all.
“Throughout my coaching career, I have repeatedly told story after story that always had a lesson to be learned,” Larrañaga said.
The players have responded well to these stories, as well as to many of Coach L’s other strategies to strengthen team unity. “I can talk to Coach L about a lot, we can have conversations not involving basketball,” Murphy said. “With a lot of college coaches, you can’t do that. He does a great job relating to us.”
Based on Monday’s press conference, it is clear that the players have adopted Larrañaga’s philosophies and are all on the same page going into Thursday.
“The biggest thing he says is ‘the score will take care of itself,’” Reed said. “If you take care of the little things and the mini games within the games, the score will take care of itself.”
Larrañaga has his players poised and prepared for this moment. Neither Reed nor Murphy has been in this position in the tournament before, but they are carrying themselves like they have.
“We are well-prepared for anything they throw at us,” Murphy said.