After going up against teams that wanted to run in the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, top seed North Carolina encountered a more deliberate squad in Washington State. It didn’t matter.
Although the Tar Heels trailed for the first time in the tournament, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington heated up from outside Thursday and led North Carolina to an easy 68-47 victory over the fourth-seeded Cougars in the semifinals of the East Regional.
“We’re ecstatic; we played really well during stretches,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “Defensively, we played them really good, although we missed some shots as well. I thought we were really good on the backboard.”
Cougars coach Tony Bennett was impressed by what he saw from the Tar Heels.
“We didn’t represent the Pac-10 as well as we should,” Bennett said. “We did get shots. We did do things. They keep coming at you for 40 minutes. UNC is a special team. Their defense is better than people think. I was disappointed because we should have represented our league better.”
North Carolina held Washington State to just 31.6 percent shooting for the game, including a woeful 12.5 percent (2-16) from the arc. The Tar Heels also out-rebounded the Cougars by 14 (46-32) and allowed just four second-chance points.
“We were trying to contest everything,” Williams said. “One of the things that we wanted to be is tough enough, patient enough and poised enough.
“There was a huge emphasis for us to keep them off the backboard and not allow them to get second-chance opportunities. We tried to challenge everything.”
The Tar Heels had some troubles of their own offensively, as they shot just 43 percent for the game (25-58).
“We were struggling putting the ball in the basket but I felt we were okay,” Williams said. “We were getting pretty good shots and we weren’t rushing the shots we had. I do feel good at our offense; I think we have good balance. I do think we have to relax a bit more in the NCAA Tournament.
“The first thing I put on the board was attack. We want to be aggressive and play the way we like to play. When we did attack, we sometimes didn’t finish the play. I think offensively, we have a chance at times to put pressure on people.”
Green had 15 points and Ellington ended with 13 for North Carolina (35-2), which set a team-record for wins and reached a regional final for the first
time since winning the National Championship in 2005. It will face third seed Louisville on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four.
Washington State got on the board first with a dunk by center Aron Baynes. A drive to the basket by Taylor Rochestie gave the Cougars their last lead at 12-10 with 11:35 remaining in the first half.
Green buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Tar Heels the lead for good. He hit 5-of-7 shots in the opening half and scored 12 points before the break as North Carolina took a 35-21 lead.
“That’s what makes North Carolina so dynamic,” said Rochestie of Green coming in off the bench, “they sub like a hockey team. They’re bringing in new guys and there’s no drop-off. They’re the same guys, they’re just as good.”
The only thing Washington State had going in the first half is that 6-10, 270-pound Baynes kept Tyler Hansbrough in check. He frustrated North Carolina’s star with his physical play, holding the Wooden Award candidate to just two points without a field goal.
“I think it was just Baynes is just one of the strongest players I have seen this season,” Hansbrough said. “He is extremely strong and it’s hard to get him in good position, and I think he did a really good job.”
But even that changed in the second half. Hansbrough scored the first eight points for the Tar Heels after intermission, helped in part by having Alex Stephenson switch over to guard Baynes.
A turnaround jumper by Hansbrough with 3:17 remaining gave North Carolina its biggest lead at 67-42.
Hansbrough finished with a game-high 18 points and nine rebounds. He now has 2,123 points in his career, the highest total by a junior in ACC history. Georgia Tech’s Dennis Scott held the previous record with 2,115.
After the game, Hansbrough was subjected to a random drug test as mandated by the NCAA.
Baynes and Derrick Low each had 14 points each for Washington State (26-9), which struggled to find any offense. The 47 points were a season-low for the Cougars, whose previous low was 51 in a win against Gonzaga.
It was also the fewest points allowed by North Carolina in an NCAA Tournament game since it lost, 46-43, in the 1946 championship game versus Oklahoma A&M