Sophomore guard Caleb Love sat in his locker with North Carolina trailing UCLA by three at halftime of their NCAA tournament game. Love had a poor first half offensively, after making his first shot he missed all seven games in a row and had three points.

Love made eye contact with COO Eric Hoots and their nonverbal communication may have changed the course of UNC’s season.

Love wore black Jordan 11 boots in the first half, although Hoots tried to encourage him not to before the game. This particular style was normally the type of shoe Love had just used in training, although he had worn them in matches before. Most notably, he wore a slightly different version of the Black 11 when he scored 22 points in their win at Duke.

Hoots said he preferred Love to wear white or Carolina blue shoes to match the uniforms. And Love had a second pair of Jordan 11s that were Carolina Blue just sitting there begging to creak on the Wells Fargo Center court. He last wore these shoes when he had 16 points in their Feb. 26 win at NC State.

“He was looking at me and I was looking at him and he had the blue, the Pantone shoes under his chair,” Hoots said. “I looked at it and just nodded and thought, yeah, time to put them on. Put the black ones on.

Love took Hoots’ advice when he said it was “time for a change.” Love appeared in the second half as if the shoes were the heroic costume change he needed to save the Tar Heels from elimination.

Love scored 27 points in the second half – which alone surpassed his previous career-high 25 points at Duke last season – and finished with 30 points as Carolina beat the Bruins 73-66 to advance to the Elite Eight. The Heels will face No. 15 seed Saint Peter on Sunday for a shot at making the Final Four in New Orleans.

“I think for all of us, we just tried to get out of his way and let him work,” striker Armando Bacot said.

It was the first time in program history that two different players had scored 30 or more points in consecutive tournament matches. RJ Davis had 30 points in their overtime win over Baylor.

Love was helpless, watching from the touchline after a regulation foul against Baylor. He scored just five points on 1-for-6 shooting against the Bears. He could have been focused on a shooting slump after his first half against UCLA. But that’s not how Love thinks.

“I never lose my level of confidence, coach (Hubert) Davis and my teammates always tell me that,” Love said. “I feel like the best part of my game is not losing my level of confidence. And when I’m there, I’m just in a mode, and that’s what it was tonight.

Hubert Davis said he didn’t realize Love had changed shoes and joked that a raise was in store for Hoots.

“I don’t think it was the shoes, I just think Caleb played really well,” Davis said. “One of the things I’ve said is that – in any game, but especially in big games like this – it has nothing to do with training, it’s just for players to step up and make plays. Everyone who played played, and Caleb did a lot of that, especially in the second half.

Love got started attacking the basket instead of just jumpers. His first field goal in the second half was a layup on UCLA’s 6-foot-7 senior Jules Bernard.

That was all he needed to get started. Love made a 3-pointer and was close to shooting 10 for 16 from the field and making five 3-pointers all in the second half.

“When you make a player look good like that and they start knocking them down and picking up the pace, they can get hot in this tournament,” Bernard said. “A hot player can send you home. He’s a great player, and he hit hard, but I give him credit.

At some point in the second half, Love scored 12 straight points for Carolina, moving the game to a tie at 44 at 56.

Davis said Love is probably Carolina’s best wing when it comes to creating his own shot. But he sometimes has shooting problems when he abandons the inside and starts shooting “outside or outside, outside, outside”.

“Coach Davis just wanted me to attack the basket; he feels like I’m the best and I’m with him – when I go downhill,” Love said. the outside shot started to drop in. Once you have them, see them pass, your rhythm is there.

Can he keep up the pace is the question. And will he keep the Carolina blue boots for Sunday’s Elite Eight game against Saint Peter’s.

“It’s not a thing, his game is the thing,” Hoots said. “There is no superstition, it was a unique thing. He played his tail. It’s not about the shoes, it’s the credit for her hard work.

This story was originally published March 26, 2022 7:00 a.m.

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CL Brown covers the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience, including stints as a beat writer at Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stint at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he won an APSE award, he stopped by, The Athletic and even tried his hand at running his own website,