Griffin posted 23 points and 16 rebounds to Hansbrough’s eight points, six rebounds and three assists, but two fouls in the opening seven minutes limited UNC’s four-time All-American to just 26 minutes total.
“I got in some foul trouble early in the first half and there was nothing I could do about it, so I was forced to sit on the bench,” Hansbrough said. “Other guys are playing well, so I was just trying to do anything defensively and just trying to get all of the rebounds, so that’s what I did tonight for my team.”
Those “other guys” were Ty Lawson and Danny Green, who provided the offensive firepower in guiding the Tar Heels to their NCAA-record 18th Final Four appearance. Green scored 14 of his 18 points in the opening half, while Lawson carried the load in the final 20 minutes, adding 15 of his 19 points.
“We’re a pretty good team, with a big emphasis on team,” Frasor said. “We’re not just throwing the ball into Tyler and hoping he scores every time down. Danny stepped up big tonight. Ty, again, a big performance… So we’re a really well-rounded basketball team and we can score in a bunch of different ways.”
North Carolina (32-4) never trailed in this contest, jumping out to 7-0 and 13-2 leads in the first six minutes of play. After Lawson connected on a jumper to give UNC a 17-10 lead with 11:34 remaining in the first half, that seven-point margin would be the closest the Sooners would get the rest of the evening.
All indications heading into Sunday’s South Regional final pointed to Oklahoma being a one-man show, and the Sooners provided more evidence to that fact against the Tar Heels.
It was obvious from the outset that if North Carolina was going to lose in this Elite Eight matchup, the Sooners were going to have to get solid production from somebody in addition to Griffin, the likely national player of the year. The Tar Heels flocked to the unanimous All-American in droves, collapsing two and sometimes three defenders on the big man whenever he touched the ball.
“In practice, we basically decided we were going to double him on the first pass, once he gets the ball,” said Lawson, who was tabbed the region’s Most Outstanding Player. “Every time they passed it to him, I just went down and doubled and tried to get the ball out of his hands and make another one of his teammates create something or score.”
Even though UNC was willing to give Oklahoma open perimeter opportunities, the Sooners were unable to take advantage, bricking their first 14 3-point attempts. Griffin managed nine points and 11 rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, but his teammates posted a combined 27.8 percent shooting display (5-for-18) in trailing 32-23 at the half.
“They were trying to get him the ball in all of their sets, and once they threw it to him and we doubled down and they swing it around and get it to another guy, they were almost like, ‘Okay, now what do we do?’” Frasor said.
Big 12 Freshman of the Year Willie Warren added 18 points for Oklahoma, but the 6-foot-4, 207-pounder scored 14 of those points after the Sooners had fallen behind 61-40 midway through the second half.
North Carolina shot 61.9 percent in the second half, using an 8-0 spurt to build that 21-point lead. For the game, UNC connected on 51.0 percent (26-of-51) of its field goals, while holding the Sooners to 44.4 percent (24-54). Oklahoma won the rebounding battle (31-27), but the Tar Heels forced four more turnovers than they committed (16-12).
The pace-setter for the Tar Heels, as always, was the ACC Player of the Year. His stats –
five assists, three steals, one turnover – don’t due justice to his ability to utterly confound Sooner point guard Austin Johnson. The senior from Amarillo, Tex. struggled to stay on the same court as his counterpart, scoring just two points on 1-of-5 shooting and dishing out three assists against two turnovers with four personal fouls to his credit.
Lawson, who took plenty of heat for UNC’s early ACC losses to Boston College and Wake Forest, has finally developed into floor general that the Tar Heels were sorely lacking several months ago.
“[Lawson] got a lot of criticism after Tyrese Rice and Jeff Teague, but he doesn't have to take a backseat to anybody,” Williams said. “He's tougher now mentally. He's tougher physically. He's still Dennis the Menace most times, but he's also Rambo every now and then.”
Hansbrough, Green, Griffin and Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn joined Lawson on the South Region All-Tournament Team. For the Tar Heels, Deon Thompson added 10 points, while Wayne Ellington scored nine points and grabbed three rebounds.
And while the CBS-hyped spectacle pitting Hansbrough versus Griffin fell in the latter’s favor, the former was the one grinning from ear-to-ear with a Final Four shirt sitting at the media dais.
“That young man has been an incredible, incredible human being and an incredible player,” Williams said. “And I said that if we win and he scores eight, he's going to be the happiest person in the gym. That's the way he is. He's interested in his team winning. He wants to do everything he can to help his team win.”
North Carolina won its 100th NCAA Tournament game on Sunday, and has now won 17 of its last 18 games regional play. Williams will be guiding a team into the Final Four for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.
Next up for the Tar Heels is Villanova in Detroit, which is set to tip at approximately 8:47pm on Saturday.