Monday, March 30, 2009

TAR HEELS HEADED BACK TO FINAL FOUR

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA 72, No. 2 OKLAHOMA 60 – If you had told Oklahoma (30-6) coach Jeff Capel that Tyler Hansbrough would only score eight points and Wayne Ellington nine, and his Sooners would hold the ninety-points-per-game Tar Heels to just 72 points, he would have been delighted.

Had you told Ol' Roy the same thing he would have been moritified.

At the same time, if you told Capel a combination of North Carolina’s defense and a poor shooting night would hold his eighty-points-per game Oklahoma squad to just 60 points including 2-19 (10.5 percent) from behind the arc, he would have been mystified.

This game looked like a bit like the Duke v. Villanova match-up from Thursday night. Oklahoma was tentative and UNC’s first-half defense was so solid that twice the Sooners failed to get a shot off. An effective double team held Player of the Year Blake Griffin as in check as he can be held and the rest of his teammates seemed nervous and tentative - missing shot after shot.

Griffin finished up with 23 points and 16 rebounds, prompting Hansbrough to say his counterpart was the “best rebounder” he had ever seen. The Tar Heels did manage to hold Griffin scoreless for the first 11 minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, Carolina (32-4) seemed a little tentative as well. They did get off to a quick start and a 13-2 lead, but from there it looked like the basketball version of the golfer’s “safety swing.” After a year of gigantic expectations including a No. 1 ranking and prognostications of a highly improbably undefeated season, North Carolina was on a mission to get back to the Final Four for a chance to avenge an embarrassing defeat to last years champ Kansas.

While they played hard and efficiently, for most of this game, North Carolina looked like they just wanted it to be over. They played tenacious defense (for them), and they shot the ball well (51 percent for the game), but they also worked the clock in the second half which is not their strong suit. Luckily, Lawson and his now famous toe were holding the ball as the shot clock was winding down. The Heels used 62 percent second-half shooting to build a 21 point lead, and they coasted in from there.

While it would be hard to argue the outcome of the game, it would have been different game had Oklahoma shot better. Credit UNC’s much maligned defense for many of those misses. On the other hand, the Tar Heels left quite a few points on the floor including one stretch in the second half where they committed five turnovers.

Ty Lawson was the Most Outstanding Player of the South Regional scoring 19 points in yesterday’s win. On the way to Detroit for the Final Four, Lawson has committed a grand total of two turnovers – not a misprint, that’s TWO. Danny Green added 18 points for Carolina, and his game seems to be back to normal.

North Carolina made fifteen of sixteen free throws (93.8 percent).

North Carolina reached a record 18th Final Four and their second straight as part of nine in the past 19 seasons.

The Tar Heels have already visited the Final Four site once this year when they easily defeated West Regional winner Michigan State 98-63.

North Carolina led 61-40 before Oklahoma scored nine straight points, including its first 3-pointer after 15 misses to start the game. Lawson made a couple free throws with 4:12 to play to halt that run.

“It’s not hard to see how talented they are throughout the year. I’ve always been impressed with them,” said Taylor Griffin, who scored four points for the Sooners. “They’re as good as advertised, I think.”

On Saturday, Williams uttered perhaps the week’s most prescient quote:

“If you say, Tyler, you’re going to have eight points and seven rebounds but North Carolina is going to win, he’s going to be the happiest guy in town.”

(Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images and Zeke Smith/InsideCarolina.com)

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