Heels retrace steps

The Baltimore Sun

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Blake Griffin had just made the play of the game, and perhaps this NCAA tournament, an extraterrestrial - he reached into the heavens - one-handed dunk of Austin Johnson's lob pass.

But Ty Lawson countered in less than eight seconds, slicing through the defense for a score.

That second-half sequence was Sunday's NCAA South Regional final in a capsule: the brilliance of Oklahoma's Griffin against the precision of North Carolina's Tar Heels.

One-against-five is rarely a fair fight, and it certainly wasn't here on Beale Street as North Carolina advanced to its second consecutive Final Four with a workmanlike 72-60 victory.

The only drama here was whether the host Memphis Grizzlies would handcuff Griffin to their locker room until the NBA draft.

Oklahoma never led and trailed by at least nine points throughout the final 27 minutes, by at least five the final 36.

The Tar Heels' stranglehold was such that they didn't even need All-America forward Tyler Hansbrough. He spent most of the first half on the bench with two fouls, attempted only four shots and finished with eight points in 26 minutes.

"That just shows the depth we have," guard Wayne Ellington said. "We have guys capable of coming in and playing big-time minutes."

Particularly in the low post.

"Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and myself," Deon Thompson said. "That's a luxury our team definitely has."

And Oklahoma does not. The Sooners have little beyond the sublime Griffin, a 6-foot-10 sophomore and the presumptive No. 1 draft pick.

Griffin had game bests of 23 points and 16 rebounds. His low-post bursts and relentless rebounding made Hansbrough appear ordinary and left Carolina coach Roy Williams calling him "LeBron James-like ... such a package of strength, explosiveness, touch, power."

But Griffin received less support than AIG executives at congressional hearings.

Tony Crocker, who made six three-pointers in Friday's semifinal victory over Syracuse, was 0-for-5. Austin Johnson passed up open shots and went 1-for-5 from the field.

Experience mattered Sunday. This was the third regional final in as many seasons for every Tar Heels starter, the first regional final for every Sooner.

And it showed. Oklahoma missed all nine of its three-point attempts in the first half and 17 of 19 for the game. This from a team that ranked second nationally in field-goal percentage (.493) and averaged 79 points.

Oklahoma limited North Carolina to 72 points and became the first team to hold Hansbrough and Ellington below 10. But the Sooners could not contain Lawson, the Tar Heels' point guard and the regional's Most Outstanding Player.

Lawson contributed 19 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals with just one turnover. North Carolina shot 62 percent in the second half and 51 percent for the game.

Last season, the Tar Heels lost to Kansas in a Final Four semifinal. Saturday, they face Villanova.

"I think we're going with a chip on our shoulder," Ellington said. "We're going there to take care of business."

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