Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Heels will face more pressure from Clemson

On Wednesday morning, North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson watched part of the replay of Clemson’s 87-61 New Year’s Day thrashing of Alabama on ESPN-U.

One thing that stood out was the defensive intensity Lawson will face when the Tar Heels visit Clemson on Sunday for both teams’ ACC opener.

“They pressure all the time, trap,” Lawson said. “They’re a tough team. (Senior forward) James Mays is playing great right now.”

It will be the first marquee game on the conference schedule as No. 19 Clemson (12-1) tries to show it’s a legitimate NCAA tournament contender. The Tigers have strong enough post play with Mays and Trevor Booker to be one of the few teams in the region that can challenge North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough.

Ordinarily, pressuring the Tar Heels wouldn’t be a good idea because North Carolina has been deeper and more talented than most of its opponents during most of coach Roy Williams’ tenure.

But if Clemson coach Oliver Purnell wants to pressure, he is facing top-ranked North Carolina (14-0) at a good time. Williams has a solid group of six players with Lawson, Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green and Deon Thompson.

After that, the team’s depth is questionable. Backup guard Bobby Frasor is out for the season with a torn knee ligament. Quentin Thomas, who is next in line behind Lawson at point guard, missed the last two games with a sprained ankle.

Williams expects Thomas to play Sunday, but isn’t sure when sophomore forward Alex Stepheson will return from his home in Los Angeles. Stepheson is there because his father, Art Stepheson, is ill.

“It’s a fact that we’re not going to have Bobby (for the rest of the season),” Williams said. “But we need those other guys to be the kind of team we’re going to be.”

Whether Thomas and Stepheson play or not, Clemson is likely to pressure the Tar Heels like no opponent has this season. And it could be quite a show. – Ken Tysiac