“I’ve thought about this a great amount,” Hansbrough said. “It’s just a special game for me. It would be a big disappointment if I went out there and played badly.”
Hansbrough said he expects “a couple thousand” people from Poplar Bluff (Mo.) to make the 154-mile trip north up U.S. 67, but that he’ll wait and catch up with family and friends after the game.
“I’m going to have to focus on my game instead of the outside things,” he said.
The game at the Scottrade Center is the lone road test over an 11-game span for No. 2 North Carolina (9-1). The Billikens (9-2) of the Atlantic 10 Conference are unranked. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Hansbrough scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the second half in UNC’s 75-63 win over SLU at the Smith Center last year.
And contrary to what many casual observers have surmised, Hansbrough is not struggling, despite considerably more defensive attention.
“I don’t know how people can say that,” Roy Williams said. “I think he’s better in every way.”
Even with all the depth now surrounding him, Hansbrough’s numbers are about on pace with last season. He leads the team in scoring (19.0 ppg.), rebounding (7.6 rpg.) and steals (15).
Last year through 10 games he was averaging 16.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg. His shooting percentage is down from 63.2 percent last year to 55.7, but his free throw percentage is up from 68.8 to 73.5.
He also has six more assists than this time last year and six fewer turnovers.
“I just thought he was the perfect player for us,” Williams said recalling his recruitment of Hansbrough. “I was as high on him as I’ve ever been on anybody in terms of being able to come in and contribute right away.”
Williams still prefers to look for Hansbrough first, although freshmen Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson have made an immediate impact on both ends of the floor.
“Opponents have run a lot of players at him, and they should,” Williams said. “He’s our No. 1 option.”
He does have “tunnel vision” when he gets possession within a few feet of the basket. Williams said he doesn’t mind Hansbrough’s rim first mentality, as it usually ends up in two points or a foul -- or both. However he is working with the second-year star this year on finding the open teammate when double- and triple-teamed, as well as adding quickness to his repertoire of post moves.
And with the Tar Heels replacing versatile 6-6 power forward David Noel with the 6-9 Wright, defenders are able to drop down and help out on Hansbrough more this season.
“Now the second post player is closer,” Williams said. “But that also makes it easer for Brandan to release to the offensive board.”
Hansbrough’s need to gather his strength for his powerful burst to the basket is the exact opposite method utilized by former UNC All-America Antawn Jamison, who had a knack for getting his shot off so quickly that defenders didn’t have time to react.
“Tyler does do a good job of keeping his pivot foot down,” Williams said. “He gets to the free throw line a great deal, and his style of play is going to bring more contact.”
This will be Williams and the Tar Heels’ first return to the city where they won the 2005 NCAA championship.