“We're ecstatic – It was a big time game for us,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We had a couple of lulls where we made some mistakes. But basically look at the big picture of work, I thought we played really, really well.”
The top-seeded Tar Heels (31-4) jumped out to a 40-27 lead less than 13 minutes into the Sweet Sixteen matchup on Friday at FedEx Forum, thanks in large part to 15 of Ty Lawson’s 17 first-half points. The junior point guard, who built his ACC Player of the Year resume with a handful of second-half flourishes, picked apart the collective defensive efforts by the Gonzaga guards.
“They just gave me open 3s and I knocked them down,” Lawson said in describing his first-half burst. “That just got everything rolling. I started pump-faking and getting to the basket, shooting and getting fouled. They just gave me opportunities to score, so I did it.”
Lawson finished with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and dished out nine assists against just one turnover. Tyler Hansbrough led all scorers with 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Wayne Ellington added 19 points and seven rebounds. Even Danny Green, who has been working through a vicious slump, got into the action with 13 points, seven assists and four steals.
“When Danny is hitting from the perimeter, I think we’ve got all our parts [working] and we're going,” Ellington said. “We're flowing pretty well and get on transition. I think that opens up a lot of things also for our inside presence. You have to respect me and Danny from the perimeter, so we get a lot of easier looks from the inside.”
North Carolina’s “Big Four” shot a combined 62.8 percent (27-of-43) on the nght.
The Tar Heels connected on 59.4 percent (19-of-32) of their field goal attempts in the first half, and finished the game at 52.9 percent (36-of-68, 11-of-19 on 3-pointers). Gonzaga shot 46.6 percent (27-of-58) from the floor behind Jeremy Pargo’s 16 points, but the Bulldogs simply could not match UNC’s fast-paced efficiency.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few told reporters earlier this week that that he’s “a very big believer in transition basketball, especially with this team. That's when we're at our best."
But against the vaunted North Carolina hyper-drive offense, the Bulldogs were essentially wielding nun-chucks against a platoon of heavily-armed guards.
“We pride ourselves on being a great transition team, but they were much better than we were tonight,” Few said during his postgame press conference.
UNC scored the first six points of the second-half to build its lead to 59-42, and the margin eventually increased to 66-45. But the Bulldogs caught the Tar Heels’ defense napping on a series of possessions and managed a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to 11 with 12:35 remaining.
But senior guard Bobby Frasor ended any thoughts of a furious comeback with back-to-back 3-pointers that ignited a 12-0 UNC run to build the lead back to 80-57. North Carolina was up 96-68 before Williams called off the dogs and pulled his starters.
The Tar Heels will face No. 2 seed Oklahoma on Sunday at 5:05pm in the South Regional final, marking the fourth time in five years that UNC has played for a Final Four birth. North Carolina, which passed Kentucky on Friday for all-time NCAA Tournament wins with 99, has won 30 games in three straight seasons for the first time ever.
With three NCAA Tournament victories under their belt this season, the Tar Heels are halfway to their lofty goal of a second national title in five years.
“I've said all along, if all 16 of us, if we all play at the top of our game, North Carolina wins the national championship,” Few said. “I just feel like, when they're playing at their highest end, they're better than the rest of us… It was an impressive, impressive performance.”