CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Roy Williams will be slightly conflicted when the Tar Heels face Alabama-Birmingham today at the Smith Center (6 p.m., ESPNU).
The Blazers are coached Jerod Haase, who spent 13 seasons on Williams’ staff at Kansas and at UNC before taking over UAB in March.
“It’s great to see one of your players return as the head coach on the other bench,” Williams said. “He’s reaching his dream of being a head coach and running a program. At the same time, it’s difficult because I care so much for him, but I also want my team to beat his team.”
Still, the game will be much more than just a homecoming for Haase and UAB director of operations Bobby Fraser, who won the NCAA title in 2009 as a guard for UNC and was the Tar Heels’ video coordinator this past season.
The Tar Heels (5-2) need to bounce back after big defeats in their two most recent games against Division I opponents.
No. 14 UNC fell behind by 29 points in an 82-71 loss to Butler last week, and then trailed by as many as 32 in an 83-59 loss at No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday.
“I think it is more of a case of our kids trying to do too much right now,” Williams said after the Indiana game. “I like my team. I don’t like the way we played tonight.”
Though UAB (4-3) should give UNC a chance to work out some kinks, the Tar Heels still may be in for a struggle today because of injuries.
Two of their top three scorers were limited in practice Friday and their status is uncertain for today’s game. Reggie Bullock (11.6 points per game) had his fingers stepped on against the Hoosiers and has a contusion on his right hand, while P.J. Hairston (10.8 points) missed the Indiana trip with a sprained knee.
If those two guards can’t play, then Dexter Strickand, Leslie McDonald and Marcus Paige will need to provide more perimeter scoring to complement power forward James Michael McAdoo, who is averaging a team-high 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds.
NOTES — Haase joins Mark Turgeon (Maryland), Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), Wes Miller (UNC Greensboro) and Rex Walters (San Francisco) as current Division I coaches who worked or played under Williams. ... Two previous meetings between UNC and UAB were in the postseason. The Tar Heels won at UAB in the 2010 NIT quarterfinals and beat the Blazers in the second round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament. ... Former Duke standout Jay Williams will be the TV analyst for today’s game.