Friday, March 27, 2009

North Carolina rolls past Gonzaga 98-77



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— Ty Lawson sat on the sideline with both feet propped up on a chair, shooting an occasional glance toward the court as his left ankle was re-taped.

He went back in the game a few moments later, but there was no rush. North Carolina had this one well under control.

Lawson scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half, and the top-seeded Tar Heels routed Gonzaga 98-77 in the South Regional on Friday night. They'll play second-seeded Oklahoma on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four.

"If they play like that, they're going to win the national championship," Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt said. "They'd hit every shot, it seemed like. You can't do anything on teams like that."

Tyler Hansbrough added 24 points and 10 rebounds for North Carolina, which won its 99th NCAA tournament game, breaking a tie with Kentucky for the most by any school.

Wayne Ellington scored 19 points and Danny Green added 13 for the Tar Heels (31-4), who reached the regional finals for the third straight year. There was no jumping for joy afterward for this team — after losing to Kansas in the national semifinals last year, there was still work to do.

"It's a very happy, relaxed, calm locker room," coach Roy Williams said. "We'd like to stay here and play pretty well another day."

Now, we'll have a regional final with a little Duke-Carolina flavor. Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel used to play for the Blue Devils. He made one of the most famous shots in the Tobacco Road rivalry — a running buzzer-beater from around 35 feet that tied the teams' 1995 matchup at Duke. The Tar Heels ended up winning in double overtime.

Gonzaga seemed determined to match the Tar Heels basket for spectacular basket early on. Green dunked along the baseline, and Heytvelt answered seconds later with an alley-oop dunk. Green made a 3-pointer from the left wing, then Gonzaga's Austin Daye made one of his own at the other end.

At the first television timeout, the Tar Heels were 8-of-10 from the field and the fourth-seeded Bulldogs were 4-of-5. North Carolina led 19-12.

Lawson didn't seem slowed in the least by his much-discussed toe injury. He breezed past a defender for a layup to make it 23-16, then added an acrobatic layup while being fouled on a fast break to put the Tar Heels ahead 35-25.

North Carolina led by as many as 17 in the first half, and for a while it seemed the Tar Heels might go the entire half without a turnover. Ellington finally gave the ball away with an offensive foul with 5:53 to play.

The only blemish for North Carolina in the first half — 9-of-18 free throw shooting that enabled the Zags to stay in the game. Gonzaga cut the margin to single digits before Hansbrough scored inside just before the halftime buzzer to make it 53-42.

Lawson shot 6-of-7 in the half, picking up where he left off the previous game, when he scored 21 of his 23 points after halftime in a second-round win over LSU.

"The toe injury might have helped Ty Lawson," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He's playing at a great pace right now. He's not forcing anything."

The second half didn't start much better for the Zags. Lawson spun to the basket, then dropped the ball off for Deon Thompson, whose layup capped a 6-0 run that made it 59-42.

Gonzaga fought back to within 11, forcing North Carolina to call a timeout with 12:27 remaining. The Tar Heels needed less than a minute to score nine straight points. Bobby Frasor made back-to-back 3-pointers — his only two shots of the game — and then Ellington added a 3-point play in transition.

A 3-point play by Hansbrough capped a 12-0 run that made it 80-57.

North Carolina finished 11-of-19 from 3-point range.

"We ran into a great basketball team tonight that played great," Few said. "I mean, when they are shooting the ball like that — especially from the 3-point line — I think it's going to be tough for anybody to beat them. You just tip your hat to them."

Lawson missed three straight games with an injured toe on his right foot before helping the Tar Heels rally past LSU. He had his left foot re-taped about midway through the second half, but didn't stay out of the game for long. He finished with nine assists.

He sat in the locker room afterward with his right foot in an ice bath.

"It didn't start tightening up until the end when we started slowing down the game and things like that," Lawson said. "The intensity slowed down a little bit. That's when it started tightening up."

North Carolina will go for its 100th NCAA tournament win Sunday. Kentucky has actually won 100 games on the court as well, but two were vacated by the NCAA because of violations.


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