NCAA Tournament: UNC 68, Washington State 47
By Bret Strelow
CHARLOTTE ó The projected pace of play concerned Ty Lawson enough to disrupt his sleep, but North Carolina put to rest the notion it would struggle against a deliberate opponent.
The top-seeded Tar Heels advanced to the Elite Eight with a 68-47 win against fourth-seeded Washington State on Thursday night at Bobcats Arena.
The Cougars held their first two NCAA tournament foes to a combined 81 points.
“I was thinking about it (Wednesday) night and even had a dream about us having 20 points with like five minutes left to go in the game,” Lawson said.
That nightmare never became reality.
UNC (35-2) led 19-15 with five minutes left in the first half and soared past the 20-point plateau. It scored 16 points in the last 4:40 of the half, and the Cougars (26-9) trailed 35-21 at the break. They fell behind 47-27 in the first eight minutes of the second half.
North Carolina, which will face third-seeded Louisville (27-8) in the East Regional final Saturday at 9:05 p.m., has won three straight NCAA tournament games by at least 20 points for the first time in school history. It hadn’t allowed so few points in the event since 1946, when Oklahoma A&M prevailed 43-40 in the championship game.
“We were trying to contest everything,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I put up on the board, ‘tough enough, patient enough, poised enough.’ We talked about guarding for 35 seconds.”
The Cougars, who had not lost by more than 12 points in their first 34 games, set season lows for points and field-goal percentage (31.6).
Leading scorer Derrick Low missed seven of his first nine shots and finished with 14 points. Fellow guards Kyle Weaver and Taylor Rochestie were a combined 4-for-21 from the floor.
Only center Aron Baynes, who had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting, enjoyed a productive outing. He fouled out guarding UNC forward Tyler Hansbrough, who scored 16 of his team-leading 18 points in the second half.
“I think North Carolina is better defensively than people think,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said. “They can guard you ó they certainly can ó and I did think we got enough quality looks for us to be in the game longer than we were.”
The end of the first half enabled North Carolina to create the needed separation.
A steal by Danny Green led to the first breakaway layup for UNC, which officially had 16 fastbreak points. Wayne Ellington’s transition basket started a 16-6 run to close the half.
Green and Ellington made 3-pointers to push the Tar Heels ahead 27-18, and Lawson hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 1.6 seconds left before the break.
“We didn’t play the team defense that has gotten us here all year,” Weaver said. “We broke down a lot of times. Each time down the floor, someone was out of position and we just didn’t cover for each other.”
Hansbrough, who had three turnovers in the opening seven minutes, went 0-for-4 from the field in the first half.
He didn’t scratch until he made a pair of free throws with 1:17 left in the half, and he scored UNC’s first eight points of the second half. His fourth field goal gave the Tar Heels a 43-27 lead with 13:30 remaining.
“I think it was just me getting into the flow of things,” Hansbrough said. “I think I personally did a better job of moving around and getting in a better position. I was more aggressive.”
Washington State had no choice but to speed up its approach, and that played to Lawson’s strength.
Baynes scored inside, and Lawson was at the other end making a layup seven seconds later. He hit two more layups in the next minute, including one that occurred seven seconds after Deon Thompson collected a defensive rebound.
“I think this team continued to pound them and pound them, just trying to impose our will on them,” UNC junior Marcus Ginyard said. “We found a way. Obviously it’s not the way we would have liked to play, but we found a way for it to work for us.”
“We definitely felt like we kind of beat them at their own game tonight.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or email@example.com.