for this game

Hansbrough tough down the stretch, UNC reaches Final Four

Mar 30, 2008 - 5:28 AM
By Brian Joura PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Louisville had top seed North Carolina on the ropes Saturday night, but Wooden Award candidate Tyler Hansbrough refused to let the Tar Heels lose.

Hansbrough fired in 28 points and scored 16 out of 23 for North Carolina during a 13-minute stretch in the second half, leading the Tar Heels to an 83-73 victory to capture the East Region championship and a spot in the Final Four.

The junior shot 12-of-17 from the floor to along with 13 rebounds and Wayne Ellington chipped in 13 points, helping the Tar Heels into their 17th Final Four appearance.

The win also helped ease the pain of last year's loss in the "Elite Eight" to Georgetown after they squandered a double-digit lead in the second half.

"Yeah, I mean it was in the back of a lot of our minds," Hansbrough said about last year's exit. "One thing about tonight, there was that point where they went on that run and I think the difference this year is we handled that run better and stayed poised and came back. Got some points and kept fighting back until eventually we had a run."

North Carolina (36-2) held a 12-point lead at the break but saw third-seeded Louisville rally back to tie the game at 59-59 after a free throw by Earl Clark with 10:21 remaining.

But the Cardinals (27-9) never did take the lead as Hansbrough's will and determination kept the Tar Heels in front.

"We played exactly the way we needed to play to beat them," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We tied it up, had a chance to win, and they overpowered us down the stretch."

The 6-9 forward scored seven straight points for his team and then finally got some help from his teammates, as Deon Thompson hit a layup and Ty Lawson drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to give North Carolina a 71-64 lead with 5:07 remaining.

After a jumper by Clark pulled the Cardinals within five, Hansbrough iced the game with back-to-back jumpers from just inside the arc and with the shot clock winding down, giving North Carolina a 75-66 advantage with 1:36 left to play. Louisville got no closer than eight the rest of the way.

"The shots he made, I mean, I was right there, were unbelievable shots because they were under duress, and he had very little time to get it off," Pitino said. "And obviously I don't like to lose, but you've got to give credit to a great basketball player."

Danny Green had 11 points off the bench and Lawson added 11 and nine assists for North Carolina, which shot 53 percent (31-of-58) from the field. It was the first time this season that Louisville, which finished sixth in the nation in field goal percentage defense with a .383 mark, allowed an opponent to top 50 percent shooting.

The Tar Heels will play the winner of Sunday's Davidson-Kansas game in the national semifinals next weekend. North Carolina played a close game vs. Davidson earlier in the season and coach Roy Williams has extensive ties to the Jayhawks, for whom he was the coach for 15 years.

"I will never play the University of Kansas in a regular-season game," Williams said. "It will have to be a tournament, whether it's NCAA Tournament or a holiday tournament. But nobody could have more love and try to give more to that place than I did for 15 years. So I have no idea what the emotions will be.

"I'm ecstatic for this club right now to be going to San Antonio and enjoy what's going on, and enjoy the accomplishments that they have made."

In the first half, North Carolina was happy to run up and down the court given the chance and seemed like it might be on its way to another easy victory.

The Tar Heels took control midway through the first half, using a 12-3 run to take a 29-17 advantage with 6:47 left before intermission.

Louisville was able to cut the deficit to five but the Tar Heels outscored the Cardinals, 11-4, over the final three minutes of the half to take a 44-32 bulge at the break.

"They're one of the best offensive teams in the country," said Louisville center David Padgett, who had six points, eight rebounds and six assists. "They played well tonight and did a good job rebounding the basketball. And we came out after halftime and I thought we dug in and slowly chipped away at the lead and tied it up, but it's tough when you dig yourself a hole like that."

Jerry Smith scored 17 points to lead four players in double figures for Louisville (27-9), which shot 53 percent (29-of-55) but were undone by 19 costly turnovers.

Hansbrough earned Most Outstanding Player for the East Regional and was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Ellington and Lawson. Louisville's Smith and Clark rounded out the squad.