CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - This time, North Carolina got to
celebrate instead of heading to the locker room to wait for next
year. Tyler Hansbrough and his top-seeded Tar Heels just wouldn't
be denied a trip to the Final Four again.
Hansbrough had 28 points and 13 rebounds Saturday night to help
the Tar Heels hold off Louisville 83-73 in the East Regional final.
Playing in front of a partisan home-state crowd, they reached the
national semifinals for the first time since winning the
championship in 2005.
The Tar Heels (36-2) advanced to play the Kansas-Davidson winner
next Saturday at San Antonio.
Ty Lawson added 11 points - including a key 3-pointer with about
5 minutes left - for North Carolina. The Tar Heels blew a 12-point
halftime lead, then broke away from a tie at 59 to earn their 17th
trip to the Final Four.
It was a reversal of last year's regional final in which the Tar
Heels fell apart down the stretch, wasted a double-digit lead in
the second half and lost to Georgetown in overtime.
Last year, nobody could hit a shot when the Tar Heels needed one
most against the Hoyas in a loss that had stayed with them all
season. But this time, Hansbrough and Lawson came through with the
three biggest shots of the season to maintain North Carolina's
tenuous second-half lead.
The Tar Heels have won all four of their games in this
tournament by double digits. All four victories came in their home
Battling against David Padgett in physical contest inside,
Hansbrough finished 12-for-17 from the floor in 38 minutes and was
named regional MVP. Meanwhile, Lawson had nine assists while
operating as a one-man press break against the third-seeded
Cardinals (27-9) and their full-court defense all night.
Jerry Smith scored 17 points to lead Louisville, which shot 53
percent and gave the Tar Heels all they could handle in front of a
blue-clad crowd. But ultimately, North Carolina proved it had
learned the lessons from last year.
First, with the Tar Heels clinging to a 68-64 lead, Lawson came
around the baseline and knocked down a 3 from the corner in front
of his bench that pushed the margin to seven. Then, after a basket
from Earl Clark inside, Hansbrough knocked down a straightaway
jumper over the 6-foot-11 Padgett to make it 73-66 with 2:27 to
Hansbrough essentially closed the door on Louisville on the next
possession. The 6-9 junior got the ball on the left wing with the
shot clock winding down, then pump-faked to get Clark up in the air
and step in for another jumper over Padgett. The ball swished
cleanly through while Hansbrough was knocked to the ground, pushing
the lead to 75-66 with 1:33 left.
The Tar Heels went 8-for-8 at the foul line to seal it in the
That steady hand was quite a change last year's loss to the
Hoyas, in which they missed 22 of 23 shots and let an 11-point lead
slip away in the 96-84 loss.
The Tar Heels shot 53 percent to become the first team to shoot
better than 50 percent against Rick Pitino's Cardinals.
Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams moved past Pitino and Bob Knight
and into a tie with Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and Louisville's Denny
Crum with six Final Four appearances, which is fourth most
Wayne Ellington finished with 13 points, while Danny Green added
11 for the Tar Heels.
Terrence Williams had 14 points for Louisville, which fell to
8-2 in regional championship games.
The game came hours after the Louisville and North Carolina
women's teams played in the NCAA round of 16 in New Orleans. In
that game, the top-seeded Tar Heels rallied from an 18-point
deficit to beat the fourth-seeded Cardinals 78-74.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)