Carolina cruises to 2nd straight Final Four
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Tyler Hansbrough deferred to his teammates — just as he’d hinted he might.
This was no one-on-one matchup down low. Instead, North Carolina rolled past Blake Griffin and Oklahoma with a total team effort.
Ty Lawson scored 19 points and top-seeded North Carolina overcame a quiet game from Hansbrough to beat the Sooners 72-60 Sunday in the South Regional final.
North Carolina (32-4) advanced to the Final Four for the second straight year and will play Villanova in the national semifinals.
“This is what we work for,” the Tar Heels’ Wayne Ellington said. “We put so much work in and sweat in the offseason to get not to this point, but past this point. It means a lot to be able to get to this point and have an opportunity to win the whole thing.”
Danny Green scored 18 points for the Tar Heels and Deon Thompson added 10. Hansbrough was in foul trouble early and finished with only eight points, but he’d said the previous day he wasn’t going to be caught up in a head-to-head battle with Griffin.
Griffin scored 23 points with 16 rebounds for second-seeded Oklahoma, but the Sooners (30-6) went 2-for-19 from 3-point range.
“One thing about Blake is I think he’s tough down low to box out,” Hansbrough said. “I think one thing about him is he’s one of the best rebounders I’ve played against and so that was very tough. I think he gets a lot of stuff off offensive rebounds and his rebounding ability was something I think I’m not really used to seeing.”
Still, it was Hansbrough who was standing on the court after the game, posing for pictures while the Tar Heels cut down the nets. That’s a routine this program has down pat.
North Carolina reached a record 18th Final Four. UCLA has been to 18, but the Bruins’ 1980 appearance was later vacated by the NCAA because of rules violations.
This will be the Tar Heels’ second Final Four in a row and ninth in 19 seasons — and it will be played at Detroit’s Ford Field, where they routed Michigan State 98-63 in December. Earlier Sunday, the Spartans also reached the Final Four.
North Carolina lost in the semifinals last season.
“This team has dealt with a great deal of adversity and a great deal of expectations from other people and they have us going to Detroit,” coach Roy Williams said.
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.
“We fully believed we were going to win this basketball game today, but this is how life is sometimes. It doesn’t happen the way you want it,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “I thought the game would’ve been a lot more interesting if we could’ve made some shots, but I thought we had some really good looks.”
Hansbrough was The Associated Press player of the year in 2008, and Griffin has made an impressive bid for this year’s honor. It wasn’t much of a contest on the stat sheet, but the Tar Heels set the tone by swarming Griffin early with double teams. He didn’t score before making two free throws with 8:29 remaining in the first half.
“That’s something we faced as a team all year,” Griffin said. “Teams might not have as many guys like that.”
Both teams appeared tight at the start, but the Tar Heels loosened up quickly. Lawson pulled up for a jumper from the free throw line that gave North Carolina a 13-2 lead and forced Oklahoma to take a timeout less than six minutes in.
At first, Griffin was content to pass out of the double teams, and Oklahoma accomplished one of its goals by controlling the pace. North Carolina didn’t have many early fast breaks and even tossed up several uncharacteristic air balls.
At the other end, however, the Sooners were stagnant. After a 3-pointer by Green put the Tar Heels ahead 28-16, the shot clock ran out on Oklahoma when Griffin was double teamed and the Sooners didn’t react quickly enough.
With his teammates shooting poorly, Griffin became more aggressive, scoring Oklahoma’s last seven points of the half, but the Sooners still trailed 32-23 at intermission — their lowest-scoring half of the season. Oklahoma scored all its first-half points from the paint or the foul line.
Green scored 14 points in the first half. Hansbrough picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes and played only nine in the half.
North Carolina made its first six shots of the second half, and the Tar Heels were able to maintain a comfortable lead even as Griffin threw down a powerful, one-handed alley-oop dunk at the other end.
North Carolina eventually went ahead 53-38 on a 3-pointer by Lawson.
“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.”
Hansbrough had eight points and six rebounds, and he and his teammates were happy and headed back to the Final Four.
“It’s a different team,” Green said. “It’s a new year, a new day. It’s a new game, and we know what our goals are.”