Tar Heels getting defensive at Final Four
By Bret Strelow
SAN ANTONIO ó The blueprint is in place for North Carolina to emerge as the national champion at a Final Four filled with college basketball blue bloods.
The Tar Heels (36-2) face Kansas (35-3) tonight at 8:47 p.m. in the second semifinal at the Alamodome, and scoring plenty of points isn’t UNC’s top priority.
A healthy balance of efficient offense and stingy defense enabled the Jayhawks to roll through the regular season, win the Big 12 tournament title and survive a test from Davidson in the Midwest Regional final.
“It’s imperative for us to be the best defensive team here if we want to win this title,” UNC junior Marcus Ginyard said. “There’s no way you’re going to get to this point and win the national championship without being a great defensive team. One leads to the other.
“We’re either going to play at 100 percent on defense or we’re going to go home.”
The Tar Heels used that formula to win the title in 2005.
A team with offensive standouts Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants buckled down at the Final Four, holding both Michigan State and Illinois to less than 40-percent shooting.
The Spartans shot 29.4 percent in the second half of their semifinal loss to UNC, and Illinois shot 27 percent in the first 20 minutes of the championship game.
North Carolina’s opponents shot less than 37 percent in four of six halves through three rounds of this year’s NCAA tournament, and the Tar Heels struggled to put away Louisville before earning a spot opposite the Jayhawks.
“The four teams that are here right now, Kansas and UCLA, are fantastic defensively,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “They just undress you. Memphis plays so hard and athletically. They block a lot of shots, and they intimidate you around the basket.
“We’re somewhere in between those. We haven’t done it exactly like we wanted to by any means.”
Kansas ranks third nationally in field-goal percentage (50.7) and field-goal percentage defense (37.9).
Four players average at least nine points per game, led by 6-foot-6 junior Brandon Rush at 13.1. Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and reserve Sherron Collins are part of a formidable backcourt, while Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur and 6-foot-11 reserve Sasha Kaun play in the paint.
No one from Kansas made the All-Big 12 first team, but six different players have scored at least 20 points in a game for the Jayhawks this season.
“Kansas presents more problems for us than anybody we’ve faced all year by far,” Williams said. “The problems that they pose for us is that we really have to play our best defensive game of the year, and it’s not focused on just one guy.”
The Tar Heels are more successful when a perimeter threat takes some of the pressure off forward Tyler Hansbrough.
Wayne Ellington and Danny Green shot a combined 14-for-53 in UNC’s two losses, and they were 0-for-7 from the field in the second half against Louisville.
Hansbrough, recognized Friday as the national player of the year by The Associated Press, bailed out North Carolina by scoring 20 of his 28 points after the break.
Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley, Hansbrough’s biggest competition on the awards circuit, had 64 points in two games against the Jayhawks.
“Michael scores in more ways,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He was 8 of 11 from 3 against us. If Tyler goes 8 of 11 tomorrow, we’ve got some serious issues.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or email@example.com.
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