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Hansbrough, No. 1 UNC battle for 12th straight win

Jan 11, 2007 - 7:16 AM CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina had some ups and some downs in their first game as the nation's top team.

Hansbrough scored 18 points and freshman Brandan Wright added 16 as the Tar Heels extended their winning streak to 12 games with a 79-69 victory over Virginia in an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.

After UCLA absorbed its first loss at No. 17 Oregon on Saturday, the Tar Heels (15-1, 2-0 ACC) assumed the top spot of the rankings for the first time since February 2001 under former coach Matt Doherty.

However, UNC experienced a slow start, falling behind, 15-8, inside the opening six minutes and did not take its first lead until 31-30 behind the strength of a 13-3 spurt. Freshman Wayne Ellington had five points during the burst, which was capped on a 3-pointer by fellow first-year player Ty Lawson with 6:45 remaining.

"It's tough," Lawson said. "We didn't get a flow going in the first half, which is why we didn't score a lot of points. We'd get up a couple points, then they'd get up and take a big lead."

Despite the charge to the lead, the Tar Heels could not shake the Cavaliers, holding just a 39-37 edge at the half.

"Sometimes you just have to grind it out," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "I think that's what it was tonight and that's what the kids were saying when they got in the locker room."

Virginia (9-5, 1-1) even pulled into the lead in the opening moments after intermission, going up, 46-41, on a three-point play by Laurynas Mikalauskas.

"I think Virginia's a really good basketball team," Williams said. "They have had some huge wins this year - Arizona, Gonzaga, who beat us - so we knew it was going to be a very difficult game."

"They did a great job slowing the ball down," Wright said. "There aren't a lot of teams in the country who can try to run with us because we're very explosive and we can do a lot of things with lots of great players. They did a great job slowing the game down, and we just (grind) it out."

Freshman Deon Thompson helped UNC race back into the lead, scoring the first six points of a 10-3 burst that put it ahead, 53-49, with 14:28 left.

Thompson finished with eight points on 4-of-8 shooting in 13 minutes, highlighting a decisive effort by the UNC bench, which outscored Virginia's reserves, 24-8.

"I think Deon Thompson gave us a lift," Williams said. "I said all year long our bench is going to be important to us and if you look down there we have eight off the bench, seven off the bench, four off the bench, five off the bench, and I would guess that it's more than what their team had."

While Williams was focusing on the offense that the bench supplied, Virginia coach Dave Leitao knows that the Tar Heels' frequent substitutions allowed them to keep up their defense.

"We got beat today for a number of reasons, but the first reason is, obviously, and I said before the game, this is as well-balanced a team as we're probably going to face all year long or maybe even in the next few years," he said. "They successfully play 12, 13 guys, rotate them. I thought they kept coming at us with defensive energy that cost us."

Hansbrough, who finished 6-of-13 from the floor with seven rebounds, extended the advantage to 60-52 on a jumper with 10:08 left. Wright added nine boards and three of UNC's three steals. The Cavaliers got no closer than five points thereafter en route to their seventh loss in the last nine meetings with the Tar Heels.

J.R. Reynolds had 15 points and Sean Singletary 14 for Virginia, which dropped to 0-2 on the road this season.

The guard duo fell six points below their season average of 35.3 points, but also had seven assists each for the Cavaliers, who finished with two more turnovers (18) than assists (16).

Mamadi Diane scored 14 points and Mikalauskas 10 for Virginia, which were outrebounded, 47-34.