With the Tar Heels trailing 10-8 seven minutes into their record 22nd Sweet Sixteen appearance, Green swatted the ball out of Derrick Low’s hands following a defensive rebound and quickly scored on a layup, and woke up the predominantly Carolina blue crowd and his teammates in the process.
The North Babylon, N.Y. product initiated a 16-5 UNC spurt with 10 points of his own that changed the game’s tempo in North Carolina’s favor.
“We felt Danny Green gave us a huge lift in the first half shooting the ball in the basket, and he hasn't been shooting the ball that well recently to say the least…,” head coach Roy Williams said after his team won its school-record 35th game of the season. “But he came in the first half and gave us a big lift when we were having trouble scoring against a very good defense.”
Green scored 15 points in all on 6-of-10 shooting (3-of-5 from long range), while contributing five rebounds and three steals. Tyler Hansbrough posted game-highs with 18 points and nine rebounds, and Ty Lawson (12 points) and Wayne Ellington (13 points, eight rebounds) rounded out the attack for the Tar Heels. North Carolina shot 43.1 percent (25-of-58) on the night.
“Just making one basket really gets me going,” said Green, who shot 28.6 percent (4-of-14) in Raleigh. “One shot gives me confidence to make the next one. Playing good defense [and] doing the little things helps to get the butterflies out. Once I got going, things started working my way.”
The 21-point margin of victory is North Carolina’s largest in a regional semifinal since beating Eastern Michigan by 26 on Mar. 22, 1991 at the Meadowlands.
Washington State entered their first-ever Sweet Sixteen showing tabbed as the defensive force that could slow down the Tar Heel transition machine, as well as possibly being able to contain Hansbrough.
Tony Bennett’s squad succeeded in accomplishing the latter – at least for a half – as Hansbrough’s only two points during the opening 20 minutes came on a pair of late free throws, marking only the second time this season that he did not connect on a field goal in the first half (at FSU).
But it’s never a good sign when your team manages that feat, and still trails at the break, 35-21. Hansbrough scored North Carolina’s first eight points of the second half, and the Tar Heels would eventually build a 26-point lead before the night was through.
The National Player of the Year credited his adversary in the paint with his first-half difficulties.
"I don't think it was necessarily the double teams, I think it was just that [Aron] Baynes is one of the strongest players I have seen this season," Hansbrough said. "He is extremely strong and it's hard to get him in good position, and I think he did a really good job."
Despite Washington State’s defensive accolades, North Carolina was the aggressor on that end of the floor in Charlotte, holding the Cougars to 31.6 percent (18-of-57) and forcing 10 turnovers to just nine assists. Leading scorers Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver combined for only 24 points connecting on 9-for-29 shooting, while Baynes added 14 in the post.
Washington State’s 47 points were the fewest points allowed by North Carolina in a NCAA Tournament game since Oklahoma A&M defeated the Tar Heels, 43-40, in the 1946 NCAA championship game.
”It was a huge emphasis tore us to keep them off the backboards and not let them get second-shot opportunities, and we wanted to do a better job on our offensive boards than we did,” Williams said after his squad outrebounded the Cougars, 46-32. “Defensively we wanted to really try to challenge everything, but you look at it and they shoot 29% in the second half, and we shoot 38% percent... But I was pleased with our defense tonight.”
The Tar Heels will now play in their second consecutive NCAA Regional final on Saturday night, squaring off against No. 3 seed Louisville at 9:05 p.m.