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Coaching up the Zags

I solicited the opinions of three coaches — Maryland’s Gary Williams, Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg and Washington State’s Tony Bennett — who have experience facing Gonzaga and North Carolina. 

Read what they consider to be the key points in Friday’s GU-UNC matchup below in an unedited article that will run in Wednesday’s S-R.

 


By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Game-planning for North Carolina is the easy part. Beating the Tar Heels, that’s a different story.

“It’s no secret, everybody in the league tried to do the same thing,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who went 1-1 against the Atlantic Coast Conference champion Tar Heels. “You try to keep (Ty) Lawson from penetrating, especially in transition. If you can keep him out of the paint, it slowed them down a little bit.

“And with your offense, you try to get (Tyler) Hansbrough in foul trouble.”

Williams quickly acknowledges that’s easier said than done. His Terrapins, who lost to Gonzaga 81-59 at the Old Spice Classic, are one of just four teams to knock off North Carolina this season. Fourth-seeded Gonzaga (28-5) and top-seeded North Carolina (30-4) square off Friday in a South Regional semifinal in Memphis.

Lawson, bothered by a jammed right big toe since March 6, said Tuesday he expects to play against Gonzaga. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams doesn’t expect Lawson to be at 100 percent, “but we’ll take whatever we can get, especially if it’s like that performance Saturday (21 second-half points in a comeback win over LSU). That’s about as good as I’ve had a point guard play in 21 years as a head coach.”

Maryland’s Williams, Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg and Washington State’s Tony Bennett have recent experience facing the Tar Heels and Zags. Greenberg’s Hokies went 0-2, with a narrow loss to UNC in the ACC tournament. Gonzaga beat Virginia Tech at the Great Alaska Shootout last season. Bennett’s Cougars lost to GU 74-52 in December and his 2008 team was eliminated by UNC 68-47 in a Sweet 16 matchup in Charlotte.

“The one thing that we struggled to do against North Carolina that Gonzaga has certainly a better chance to do than us is (GU) can really score some points,” Bennett said. “We labored to score against them. (North Carolina) is better defensively than people give them credit.

“You’ve got to be able to score the basketball against a team like North Carolina because you know they’re going to score.”

The three coaches emphasized many of the same themes.

“The first thing is getting back on defense, especially if Lawson is healthy,” Greenberg said. “Contain transition. Gonzaga has big wings and a physical point guard – those are two things you need to have a chance against Carolina. Gonzaga’s half-court offense could give Carolina problems because they execute really well.”

Lawson directs North Carolina’s offense, which averages 90.3 points per game, second in school history to the 1987 team’s 91.3.

“He makes (Wayne) Ellington and (Danny) Green go,” Greenberg said. “If you look at their numbers without Lawson, their scoring went down almost 15 points. His speed makes Tyler a better player.”

The 6-foot-9 Hansbrough, who broke J.J. Redick’s all-time ACC scoring record in UNC’s first-round win, creates another set of problems.

“I’ve never seen anybody play at that high level for that long,” Williams said. “He turns on a switch when the game starts.”

Hansbrough made 17 of 17 free throws and scored 50 points in two wins over Virginia Tech. Only Wake Forest’s Dickie Hemric (1,359) has attempted more free throws than Hansbrough’s 1,206 in NCAA history.

“Gonzaga better match his intensity because he literally waits for you to take a play off and that’s when he seizes the moment,” Greenberg said.

All five Tar Heels starters average in double figures, led by Hansbrough’s 21.2 and Lawson’s 16.1. Green (13.2 points) and Ellington (15.7) shoot 41 and 40.4 percent, respectively, on 3-pointers. Lawson hits 47.3 percent of his 3s.

“They can beat you inside and outside,” said Williams, whose team rode Greivis Vasquez’s triple-double (35 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) to an 88-85 win over UNC.

Williams and Bennett said Gonzaga has similar characteristics.

“With (Matt) Bouldin and (Jeremy) Pargo, they’re getting a nice lift from their guards and that will be important, but they are complete enough and big enough to match up with them,” Bennett said. “It won’t be an easy game, I’m sure coach (Mark) Few will you that first thing, that they’re playing an excellent team.

“But they certainly have some depth and completeness, size and skill to hopefully hold in there.”

Said Greenberg of UNC’s offense: “They score it about as easy as anyone. It’s almost sickening, it just comes easy to them.”

The flip side is that the Tar Heels “haven’t been totally committed on the defensive end,” Greenberg said. “At times they’ve been very good, at times they haven’t.”

Greenberg expects Gonzaga’s offense to “stretch North Carolina out, maybe look to post their bigger guards. (Austin) Daye becomes an interesting matchup.”

Williams said Gonzaga must deal with the fact that “Carolina expects to be an Elite Eight program every year and their fans and players feed off that.” But he added that a Bulldogs’ victory wouldn’t be seen as an upset, even in ACC country, because “everybody knows they’re really good.

“I’ve known Mark (Few) a long time. Where they are with their program, they don’t have to change a lot of things,” Williams said. “In other words, play Gonzaga basketball. Just play their game, do what they did in the season and if they’re playing well, that’s good enough to win the game.”

 


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Jim Allen Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Jim Meehan Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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