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March 27, 2009

Tar Heels roll past Gonzaga into Elite Eight

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - This time around, Ty Lawson didn't bother saving his heroics for the second half.

Lawson scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half to lead top-seeded North Carolina to a 98-77 win against No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the South regional semifinal and set up a showdown with Oklahoma.

"They gave me open threes, so I knocked them down," Lawson said. "They gave me opportunities to score, so I did it. When I'm knocking down threes, it's easy for me to get to the basket because they have to honor the three."

Coming off a game in which Lawson's second-half scoring outburst helped the Tar Heels (31-4) survive a tough game against LSU, it was equally relieving for them to have the junior point guard get going early.

"It was good for him to get that toe warm," guard Bobby Frasor said. "He came out wanting to test the toe right away. He's not just a second-half player."

Lawson wasn't the only Tar Heel to come out hot.

Carolina was great from outside in the game, hitting 11 of 19 3-point attempts, including a 6-for-9 showing in the first half.

Lawson and Danny Green, who had 13 points, hit three 3-pointers apiece, while Wayne Ellington knocked in a pair of deep balls on his way to scoring 19.

Tyler Hansbrough led the Tar Heels with 24 points to redeem himself from the poor showing he had when these teams met 2 years ago.

In that game - an 82-74 win for Gonzaga - the Bulldogs' trio of Josh Heytvelt, Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo combined to hit 19 of 32 shots and score 56 points.

Hansbrough scored just nine points against Heytvelt's 19 then but came out on top in the rematch thanks to an 8-of-10 performance from the field and 8-for-9 shooting from the line.

"I remember that game in New York when we got our tails beat pretty bad," Hansbrough said. "I was thinking about it in practices and things like that."

Aside from Hansbrough, the Tar Heels had trouble at the line, missing 12 freebies, including nine in the first half.

Had they made those, the Bulldogs (28-6) might have found themselves more demoralized in the locker room than they were being down 53-42 at the break.

Even if the lead wasn't as big as it could have been, there was no doubt the pace favored Carolina.

The game began with both teams scoring seemingly at will and barely missing any shots in the opening minutes.

"The start of the game was crazy," Frasor said. "You look up and both teams are shooting 80 percent. That's not ideal defense, but we wanted to get up and down."

Turns out "up and down" is a perfect metaphor for the scoring swings that dominated this game.

The Heels, still freshly recalling how LSU came out and started the second half of that game with a 9-0 run, made sure to emerge from the locker room determined.

Carolina scored 13 of the first 16 points of the second half to open up a 21-point lead.

But that wouldn't last long as Gonzaga went on a 12-2 run of its own to tighten the game again.

The spurt prompted a rare Roy Williams timeout in which the UNC coach urged his team to play better defense and take better shots.

The first play out of the timeout resulted in a 3-pointer from Frasor, who quickly bagged another one. Then Ellington and Hansbrough made back-to-back 3-point plays and suddenly the Heels were up 23 points with 11 minutes to go.

The 12-0 run took little more than a minute.

"It's easy to play calm when you're up," Green said. "We knew they weren't going to give up, but we made stops when we needed them."

The result was a relatively easy win, at least from a scoreboard standpoint, at a time in the season when that's a rarity and a luxury.

"Winning by 20 is a lot less stressful," Lawson said.


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