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UNC's Huffman staying ready for opportunity

Louisville North Carolina Basketball-7

Louisville's Dwayne Sutton (24) drives for a layup while North Carolina's Brandon Huffman (42) and Kenny Williams defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. Louisville won 83-62. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Saturday, January 12, 2019

CHAPEL HILL — Brandon Huffman is trying to hold onto this heat as long as he can.

The North Carolina sophomore played four minutes in Saturday’s 83-62 loss to visiting Louisville, and his brief stay on the hardwood was impactful as Huffman breathed energy into a stale Tar Heel squad that looked a step slow.

When talking to the media postgame, Huffman rubbed his hands together as if he were trying to keep warm, though his blue winter jacket said otherwise. Instead, he was looking forward to the next time he’ll get a chance to play.

“I’m really just hoping to catch momentum and do what I can to show Coach I’m ready and can get more and more minutes,” said Huffman, who has averaged fewer than 3 minutes per game this season. “It doesn’t have to be a home run every night, but it just needs to be a step each time and I think that way I can accomplish big things.”

Despite playing just four minutes on Saturday, with three coming in the first half, Huffman was able to deliver a spark on both ends of the floor. He scored four points and was crucial on the defensive side of the floor as he helped stop the runaway train that was the Cardinals shooters by holding Louisville without a point for the final 2:38 of the first half.

Coach Roy Williams has been working with Huffman to turn the raw but yet skilled freshman into a viable player deserving of more minutes. As a true freshman last season, Huffman averaged 3.4 minutes across 29 games while scoring 47 points.

The 6-foot-10 center didn’t play last time out in a Jan. 8 win over N.C. State as the game called for a smaller lineup to defend the Wolfpack. But with Louisville able to play with three players 6-foot-10 or taller at a time, Huffman’s services were needed as Williams tried to find favorable matchups, especially in guarding the Cardinals’ 6-foot-10 Steven Enoch, who had his way in scoring 17 points.

Huffman made a pair of free throws and added a layup during his time near the end of the first half, before getting what looked like a clean block on Enoch on the other end that was ruled goaltending. Williams liked the effort and energy and rolled with Huffman out of the halftime break, but a quick turnover ended his night.

“I asked too much of Huff, but he got in and gave us a little spurt there,” Williams said. ”But it’s hard for him to handle the ball, and the first time he got it in the second half, he turned it over. But he tried to give us a little spurt to help us guard Enoch.”

Still, Huffman knows that his time is coming. He is focusing on making progress to show coaches he deserves more minutes. And as UNC, which entered Saturday as one of three teams in the country to rank in the top 10 in both of KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency categories, cycles through ACC opponents, Huffman’s size and athletic ability will be called on again.

His job is to make sure he’s ready when Williams pulls him off the bench and onto the floor.

“I think it’s dangerous to get frustrated because getting frustrated doesn’t lead anywhere,” Huffman said. “If you have the mindset of just thinking and wishing things should just be better, then I think that’s how you get caught up and not prepared. So my mindset is to stay prepared, work hard, and help the team out in any way I can and when I go out there, even if it’s not for long, give everything I have.”

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