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NCAA TOURNAMENT: SOUTH REGIONAL

North Carolina defeats Oklahoma, 72-60

Ty Lawson has 19 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals as Tar Heels advance to the Final Four.

March 30, 2009|David Teel

MEMPHIS, TENN. — Blake Griffin had just made the play of the game, and perhaps this NCAA tournament, an extraterrestrial -- he reached into the heavens -- one-handed dunk of an Austin Johnson lob pass.

But Ty Lawson countered in less than eight seconds, slicing through the defense for a runner in the lane.

That second-half sequence was Sunday's NCAA South Regional final in a capsule: The brilliance of Oklahoma's Griffin against the precision of North Carolina's Tar Heels.

One-against-five is rarely a fair fight, and it certainly wasn't Sunday as North Carolina advanced to its second consecutive Final Four with a workmanlike 72-60 victory.

Oklahoma never led and trailed by at least nine points throughout the final 27 minutes.

The Tar Heels' stranglehold was such that they didn't even need All-American forward Tyler Hansbrough. He spent most of the first half on the bench with two fouls, attempted only four shots and finished with eight points in 26 minutes.

"That just shows the depth we have," guard Wayne Ellington said. "We have guys capable of coming in and playing big-time minutes."

Particularly in the low post.

"Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and myself," Deon Thompson said. "That's a luxury our team definitely has."

And Oklahoma does not. The Sooners have little beyond Griffin, a 6-foot-10 sophomore and the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

Griffin had game bests of 23 points and 16 rebounds. His low-post bursts and relentless rebounding made Hansbrough appear ordinary and left North Carolina Coach Roy Williams calling him "LeBron James-like . . . such a package of strength, explosiveness, touch, power."

But Griffin received little support from his teammates.

"I do think we were a little bit tight," Oklahoma Coach Jeff Capel said. "Sometimes you can want something so much that you're trying so hard, and I think that's what happened to us early in the game.

"Blake had a layup, and he missed it on a great drive. We had a couple of wide-open shots that we just missed, and I think that and then Carolina executing and jumping out to a lead maybe knocked us back a little bit."

Indeed, experience mattered Sunday. This was the third regional final in as many seasons for every Tar Heels starter, the first regional final for every Sooner.

And it showed. Oklahoma's Tony Crocker, who made six three-pointers in Friday's semifinal victory over Syracuse, missed all five of his three-point attempts Sunday. Johnson passed up open shots and was one for five from the field.

Oklahoma missed all nine of its three-point attempts in the first half and 17 of 19 for the game. This from a team that ranked second nationally in field-goal percentage at 49.3% and averaged 79 points a game.

"Every time they passed it to [Griffin], I just went down and doubled and tried to get the ball out of his hands," Lawson said.

Griffin, an excellent passer and selfless teammate, passed the ball back out dutifully, but others were tentative.

"We had the tempo where we wanted it," Capel said. "To hold that team that's averaging 90 to 72? We had all of that where we wanted. The only thing we couldn't do was we could not make shots early in the game."

Yes, Oklahoma limited North Carolina to 72 points and became the first team to hold Hansbrough and Ellington below 10. But the Sooners could not contain Lawson, the Tar Heels' point guard and the regional's most outstanding player.

Lawson contributed 19 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals with only one turnover. North Carolina shot 62% in the second half, 51% for the game.

"You remember in the preseason," Williams said, "everybody was asking me how I was going to keep everybody happy, and I said at the time I'd rather have too many players than not enough. . . . Most of our guys know they're not going to get 30 shots [a game], but most of our guys know they've got a great chance to win."

Last season the Tar Heels lost to Kansas in a Final Four semifinal. Saturday they face Villanova.

"I think we're going with a chip on our shoulder," Ellington said. "We're going there to take care of business."

Collectively, they'll be hard to beat.

--

dteel@dailypress.com

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