This time, they remembered the big fella.
As the North Carolina Tar Heels faded down the stretch in last season’s regional final against Georgetown, they seemed to forget that their best player, Tyler Hansbrough, was on the floor.
And through this season even, when the Heels weren’t at their best, it seemed to be because they settled for quick jump shots instead of running their secondary break and motion offense through the three-time All-American.
It happened again on Saturday night against Louisville. Only this time, the ill-advised shots and poor shot selection came in the first 10 minutes of the second half, not the last 10.
This time, Hansbrough, who scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half, got the ball. And this time, the Heels won 83-73 to advance to the Final Four. The two things, on this night, were not mutually exclusive.
Sure, Hansbrough didn’t always get the ball in is preferred spot down on the block. But the offense, which was effectively taken away from speedy point guard Tywon Lawson, was routed directly through Hansbrough. He either got the ball in his hands at the top of the key, or he was setting screens and rolling for potential runners and hooks.
It just turned out this time that Hansbrough didn’t have to give the ball up. Because he’s added the 18-foot jump shot to his repertoire this season, he didn’t have to let a teammate bail him out. He took the shots, and twice on Saturday night, he won the game for the Heels with those shots, both of which came with the shot clock winding down and both allowed the Heels not to just hold onto a lead, but to stretch it.
Even though Louisville made a brilliant run to get back into the game, even tying it late, the Heels never relinquished the lead, and again, a lot of that had to do with Hansbrough. With the Heels hanging on by a thread, it was Hansbrough who made the big follow-up dunk. It was Hansbrough who made a one-point game into a four-point game with a three-point play.
And in the end, when the minutes and the shots mattered the most, Hansbrough made them both count.
But he had to have the ball to do it. And the Heels, to their credit, made sure he got it.