March 27, 2008
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina went from running it up to locking it down. Now the Tar Heels are a step away from the Final Four again, hoping they can avoid another collapse like last year.
Tyler Hansbrough scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half Thursday night and the top-seeded Tar Heels, not known for their defense, held Washington State to 32-percent shooting in a 68-47 win in the East Regional semifinals.
North Carolina is back to the NCAA round of eight for the second straight season.
Danny Green had 15 points to help the Tar Heels (35-2) set a school record for victories in a season while continuing their dominant tournament run. The No. 1 overall seed will play the Louisville-Tennessee winner Saturday with a clear home-court advantage, playing in an arena located about two hours from its Chapel Hill campus.
When it was over, North Carolina had improved to 24-1 in NCAA games played in its home state, including 7-0 in Charlotte Bobcats Arena. Now the Tar Heels can focus on erasing the lingering memories from last year's final game: a blown double-digit lead late in the second half in an overtime loss to Georgetown in the regional finals.
For the first time in this tournament, the Tar Heels didn't crack 100 points. It didn't matter. Nor did it matter that Hansbrough struggled much of the way. Instead, facing a deliberate Washington State team that had completely shut down its first two tournament opponents, the Tar Heels looked determined to prove they could play some tough defense, too.
Fourth-seeded Washington State missed shot after shot - sometimes open, more often not - while the Tar Heels kept pushing forward with their slowed-but-effective transition attack. The Cougars (26-9) got little from the perimeter, with Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and Taylor Rochestie scoring a combined 26 points on 10-for-37 shooting.
Meanwhile, the Tar Heels kept the pressure on, gradually getting more runouts in transition and increasing the pace to steadily build the lead. North Carolina led 35-21 at halftime on a 3-pointer from Ty Lawson just before the horn, then got a quick six-point burst to push the lead to 47-27 on Alex Stepheson's three-point play with 11:45 left.
The Cougars had allowed a combined 81 points in its tournament wins against Winthrop and Notre Dame, but the Tar Heels had just too many weapons for Washington State's methodical offense to keep pace.
Hansbrough had all kinds of trouble early while facing constant double teams any time he touched the ball near the paint. He went 0-for-4 from the floor and managed only a pair of free throws while committing three turnovers in the first half, but scored eight points in the first 6 1/2 minutes after the break to finally get going.
Green, seemingly the only Tar Heel to struggle with his shot in the first two rounds, provided an immediate lift off the bench, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting with a pair of 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes.
Low and Aron Baynes scored 14 points to lead the Cougars.