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, Tenn.
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, N.C.
“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.
The 6-foot-9 Hansbrough, who broke J.J. Redick’s 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.
“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.
“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.
“They score it about as easy as anyone,” Greenberg said of UNC’s offense. “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.
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 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.”
•Gonzaga-North Carolina ticket sales for the general public go on sale at 9 a.m. today, Gonzaga announced.
Tickets are $159 and must be secured with a credit card. Call 313-6000.