BACK WITH A VENGEANCE
Despite the coach-speak, there was little doubt Tyler Hansbrough would be in the lineup Wednesday night for the title game. Yet his performance certainly exceeded expectations.
“I said today that I think Tyler Hansbrough was at about 75 percent," Roy Williams said postgame. "Now, he played better than that tonight - I’ll be honest with you. He was really fired up. … He’s a competitive rascal.”
After sitting out most of the preseason with a shin injury, Hansbrough averaged 14.5 points in his first two outings. He more than doubled that with 34 points against Notre Dame.
“To get a couple games under your belt and then have a good game, it definitely made me feel a lot better about my play,” Hansbrough said. “But I still feel a little out of shape out there.”
Hansbrough shot 13-of-19 from the floor, with many of those field goals coming on mid-range and long-range jump shots, which foiled the pregame strategy of Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“I didn't think he'd settle for jump shots,” Brey said. “I told our guys to play off their [post players] ... and [Hansbrough] made every one of them.”
The added perimeter weapon, which Hansbrough fully unveiled last season and continues to fine tune, is an element to his game in which he now has complete confidence.
“I work on it every day,” Hansbrough said, “and it’s just me shooting it a little more and knowing when to shoot it. If I get the opportunity, I’ll take it.”
DENNIS THE MENACE: UNDER CONTROL
Roy Williams often jokingly refers to Ty Lawson as “Dennis the Menace” for the immaturity and unpredictability that he brought with him to Chapel Hill. However, no Tar Heel – or any player for that matter - was more under control in Maui than Lawson.
Lawson’s career-high 11 assists against one turnover Wednesday capped a three-game total of 22 assists and two turnovers.
“I’ve basically got to thank my teammates for making shots,” Lawson deferred. “It’s just taking care of the ball, making sure I don’t put it in jeopardy like Coach has been saying.”
His uncanny speed has been there since he arrived - and he was a one-man show on numerous occasions against Notre Dame in beating them back up the floor for a lay-in - but his improved decision-making, especially in the halfcourt, reveals a junior point guard that is maturing.
“He’s matured a great deal – he’s more serious about his game,” Williams said. “He’s still Dennis the Menace a lot, but those spots are fewer and farther between them.”
Notre Dame’s frontcourt of Luke Harangody and Luke Zeller are a more than formidable duo, as a bruising defending Big East Player of the Year and a senior with perimeter range, respectively.
On Wednesday night, Hansbrough and Deon Thompson outdueled them and then some.
Thompson made a statement on Harangody early, challenging the Irish big man at the rim and getting the better of him with an emphatic dunk. Hansbrough made his statement shortly thereafter, blocking a Harangody face-up jump shot.
“We tried to limit his touches and everytime he got the ball we just tried to make sure he was shooting over our body instead of just straight to the basket,” Hansbrough said of the defensive game plan on Harangody, who totaled 13 points on 12 shots while reportedly playing with flu-like symptoms. Zeller shot 1-for-6 from three-point range.
Meanwhile, Hansbrough and Thompson combined for 53 points and 18 rebounds, and UNC outscored Notre Dame in the paint, 52-32.
Hansbrough’s point total will grab the headlines, but Thompson’s contributions -- 19 points, 13 rebounds -- were just as important.
“I think Deon’s stepped his play up a lot,” Hansbrough said. “He’s getting a lot more boards and playing well defensively."
Thompson’s rebound total included five on the offensive end.
“Deon [got] some big offensive rebounds for us when we were trying to weather their storm,” Williams said.
Thompson’s preseason focus of being more aggressive and a better rebounder thus far has yielded just that.
“Coach told me I needed to rebound the ball more so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on,” Thompson said. “That’s what is going to separate me from being as good as I can really be – how I mentally attack the game. It’s more a mental mindset with me, trying to be aggressive.”
Three wins in three days, 105 points per game and an average margin of victory of 29.7 points. Dominant, yes, but what does this team take away from the Maui Invitational besides a trophy?
The Tar Heel head coach sees two key areas for improvement.
Despite allowing neither Chaminade, Oregon nor Notre Dame to shoot better than 41.0 percent, defense remains priority No. 1. The Tar Heel team defense tightened after a sloppy start against the Irish, yet the glaring stat line by guard Kyle McAlarney -- 39 points, including 10 three-pointers, a record by a UNC opponent – is hard to ignore.
“We’ve got to continue to improve on the defensive end of the floor and if we do that this team has got a chance to be a really good team,” Williams said, reiterating his preseason comments.
“The three best defensive players on our team are Tyler Hansbrough, Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard, and Marcus is not playing so when Marcus gets back that’s going to help us.”
Next is consistency, as lapses in focus and judgment nearly added Roy Williams to UNC’s injury list.
“I almost broke my daggum hand on the scorer’s table because I was just mad at guys for jogging back,” Williams said. “We can maintain our intensity a lot better.”