UNC leaves Oklahoma behind to make 18th Final Four

North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough, bottom, scores as Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin defends during the first half of the men's NCAA tournament South Regional championship college basketball game in Memphis, Tenn., Sunday, March 29, 2009. North Carolina won 72-60. <br><I>AP Photo

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Blake Griffin powered his way to another double-double, and Tyler Hansbrough was saddled with early foul problems.

A nightmare scenario for North Carolina? Hardly.

Ty Lawson scored 19 points and the top-seeded Tar Heels beat Oklahoma 72-60 Sunday in the South Regional final. Griffin outplayed Hansbrough inside, but it's North Carolina's big man who will head to the Final Four for the second straight year.

The Tar Heels (32-4) will play Villanova in the national semifinals after losing in that round a year ago.

"The way last year ended, it hurt everybody," North Carolina's Deon Thompson said. "To get back there and know that we have a chance to redeem ourselves is a big-time feeling to have."

Danny Green scored 18 points for the Tar Heels, and Thompson added 10. Hansbrough finished with only eight points, but he'd said the previous day he wasn't going to be caught up in a head-to-head battle with Griffin.

Griffin scored 23 points with 16 rebounds for second-seeded Oklahoma, but the Sooners (30-6) went 2-for-19 from 3-point range.

"One thing about Blake is I think he's tough down low to box out," Hansbrough said. "He's one of the best rebounders I've played against and so that was very tough. I think he gets a lot of stuff off offensive rebounds and his rebounding ability was something I think I'm not really used to seeing."

North Carolina posted its 100th victory in the NCAA tournament and reached a record 18th Final Four. UCLA has been to 18, but the Bruins' 1980 appearance was later vacated by the NCAA because of rules violations.

This will be the Tar Heels' ninth Final Four in 19 seasons - and it will be played at Detroit's Ford Field, where they routed Michigan State 98-63 in December. Earlier Sunday, the Spartans also reached the Final Four.

North Carolina led 61-40 before Oklahoma scored nine straight points, including its first 3-pointer after 15 misses to start the game. Lawson made a couple free throws with 4:12 to play to halt that run.

"We fully believed we were going to win this basketball game today, but this is how life is sometimes. It doesn't happen the way you want it," Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. "I thought the game would've been a lot more interesting if we could've made some shots, but I thought we had some really good looks."

Hansbrough was The Associated Press player of the year in 2008, and Griffin has made an impressive bid for this year's honor. It wasn't much of a contest on the stat sheet, but the Tar Heels set the tone by swarming Griffin early with double teams. He didn't score before making two free throws with 8:29 remaining in the first half.

"That's something we faced as a team all year," Griffin said.

Hansbrough picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes and played only nine in the half. Both teams appeared tight at the start, but the Tar Heels loosened up quickly. Lawson pulled up for a jumper from the free throw line that gave North Carolina a 13-2 lead and forced Oklahoma to take a timeout less than six minutes in.

"We wanted to make them pass it into Blake and make him throw it back out," North Carolina's Wayne Ellington said. "We did a great job rotating."

At first, Griffin was content to pass out of the double teams, and Oklahoma accomplished one of its goals by controlling the pace. North Carolina didn't have many early fast breaks and even tossed up several uncharacteristic air balls.

At the other end, however, the Sooners were stagnant. With his teammates shooting poorly, Griffin became more aggressive, scoring Oklahoma's last seven points of the half, but the Sooners still trailed 32-23 at intermission - their lowest-scoring half of the season. Oklahoma scored all its first-half points from the paint or the foul line.

North Carolina made its first six shots of the second half, and the Tar Heels were able to maintain a comfortable lead even as Griffin threw down a powerful, one-handed alley-oop dunk at the other end.

North Carolina eventually went ahead 53-38 on a 3-pointer by Lawson.

"We kept telling our guys we can't keep trading baskets," Oklahoma's Cade Davis said. "You have to go down on the other end and get stops and that just never happened."


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