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December 6, 2005
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - North Carolina started off as little more than part of the answer to a trivia question: When was the last time a defending NCAA champ began the next season unranked?
Five weeks later, that slight from the voters in The Associated Press' media poll looks increasingly less accurate.
The Tar Heels jumped into the Top 25 for the first time Monday, debuting at No. 23 following an upset at Kentucky. The loss dropped the Wildcats five spots to 15th, ending their streak of appearances in the top 10 at 40.
"It may be satisfying to such a young team, but I don't believe it will cause them to lose their focus because they know it is so early in the season," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. "For me personally, the polls are fine, but I really don't pay attention to where we are ranked."
It was only the fourth time since the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953 that an unranked team from North Carolina went on the road to beat one in the top 10. The most recent victory came March 4, 1990, at No. 5 Duke.
Perhaps even more shocking than simply winning was the players who did it. Sure, holdovers Reyshawn Terry, David Noel and Wes Miller have been important parts of the rotation all season, but that doesn't diminish their impressive performances in Rupp Arena.
Terry had a career-high 25 points - matching his combined total from the final 15 games of last season - and Noel again provided a steadying influence, adding 15 points and nine rebounds.
And Miller came off the bench to shoot 3-of-5 on 3-pointers and scored 12 points. This after he didn't even attempt a shot a game earlier in a close loss to Illinois.
"It was the biggest game that I've played significant minutes in here, there's no question. It's not even close," Miller said. "It's been a dream of mine to contribute in a game, in a big game, my whole life. To do that and to have that opportunity, it was an unbelievable feeling."
Not bad for a transfer who got into only 24 of the 37 games during the run to the national championship. Miller was a reserve for one year at James Madison before coming to the Tar Heels, and it's doubtful anyone beyond his coaches, teammates and immediate family could have predicted this type of effort from him.
At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he hardly is physically imposing. But apparently he learned many lessons last season while going against current NBA player Raymond Felton each day in practice.
"I was so happy for him, just because he got that opportunity," fellow guard Quentin Thomas said. "Wes is a great player, a great shooter. He got to show his talent. I know that'll just boost his confidence even more."
A talented group of freshmen sure have helped, too. In that four-point loss to the Illini - a "rematch" of the NCAA title game - Tyler Hansbrough, Marcus Ginyard, Bobby Frasor and Danny Green scored all 29 of North Carolina's points in the second half, helping their team rally from a 14-point deficit.
None of them reached double figures against Kentucky, but Hansbrough grabbed 10 rebounds and Frasor ran the team effectively from the point.
"We knew that we were one of the better teams out there," Green said. "We believed that we were, and we just wanted to prove a point."
It's one well-made.
"We've seen ourselves as being looked over all year to this point, and we've kind of taken that personally," Miller said. "I guess it's nice to get a little recognition, but we're certainly not worried about rankings at this point."For more coverage of the North Carolina Tar Heels, check out CarolinaBlue.com.