Bowton: Tyler never lets up
CHARLOTTE ó North Carolina didn’t need another possession when Tyler Hansbrough dived for a loose ball with seven seconds remaining Saturday night.
The Tar Heels led Louisville by 10 points. They’d already secured a victory and a berth in the Final Four.
Hansbrough hit the floor anyway because that’s what he does.
He’s exerted that type of energy all season, and he did so again last night to lead UNC to an 83-73 victory and get the Tar Heels to the Final Four for the first time in Hansbrough’s three seasons.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen him up close,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Some pro team’s gonna be lucky. I haven’t seen a guy play every possession like that in a long time.
“I’ve never seen it, actually. Never seen it.”
That’s quite a compliment coming from a coach like Pitino, who’s been associated with premier college teams since his days at Kentucky in the 1990s. He also coached in the NBA.
Pitino admitted Hansbrough doesn’t have the talent of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley or Magic Johnson. But he has something else that few players possess.
“Just like shooting, rebounding, playing defense, passing are skills, working hard is an acquired skill,” Pitino said. “We have an old saying in offensive rebounding: Treat every shot as a pass to you.
“It’s a very good saying, except most players can’t do that. He does that.”
He did so over and over at Bobcats Arena, grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. Seven of those came on the offensive end. He also scored a game-best 28 points, 20 of them in the second half, and shot 70.6 percent from the field.
Hansbrough didn’t have much help in the second half, as both Wayne Ellington and Danny Green were held scoreless until final-minute free throws. Hansbrough didn’t need help either.
When Louisville cut its deficit to four early in the half, Hansbrough soared through the lane for a monstrous, putback dunk. When the Cardinals tied the game at 59-all, he made a layup, a jumper and three free throws in just more than three minutes.
Those seven consecutive points put UNC back ahead 66-62. Hansbrough’s final four points, however, made an even bigger impact.
With the Tar Heels leading 71-64 and Louisville in danger of letting the game get out of reach, Hansbrough found himself at the top of the key with the shot clock at 10 seconds. David Padgett gave Hansbrough plenty of room, almost daring him to shoot a 3-pointer.
Hansbrough stepped just inside the 3-point line and made an 18-foot jumper as Padgett fruitlessly tried to close ground and contest the shot.
On UNC’s next possession, Hansbrough one-upped himself with an even better jumper. With Padgett closing quickly, Hansbrough made a 17-footer from the left side just a second before the shot clock went off. The shot put UNC ahead 75-66 with 1:35 remaining.
“I was following the flight of the ball,” Pitino said. “He couldn’t even see the basket. That’s what an All-American does ó makes those shots.”
Apparently he makes them every day.
Hansbrough, his teammates and UNC coach Roy Williams all said they weren’t surprised by Hansbrough’s poise because he’s made those shots hundreds of times ó teammate Marcus Ginyard said thousands ó in practice.
“To be honest with you, I kind of felt like they were both going in when they left,” Hansbrough said. “The clock was winding down, so it was a good shot. We work on it every day in practice. It just carried over to the game.”
Hansbrough might not think much of what he did Saturday night, and the Tar Heels aren’t surprised by anything he does anymore. But this time he turned in another all-star type of performance with more at stake than any regular-season game.
“He was huge for us tonight,” Ellington said. “He was hitting from everywhere. He just put us on his back.”
Added Padgett, who spent most of the night trying to slow Hansbrough: “He deserves every accolade and all the success he gets. I’ve never played against somebody who plays that hard. The kid is just absolutely determined to be a great basketball player.
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.