Sunday, March 29, 2009

UNC-OU: Four (other) things to watch

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough, the 2008 consensus national player of the year, returned for his senior season because he wanted another chance to win a national championship. So it seems rather fitting that to reach the Final Four, he'll face the toughest individual match-up of his career tonight: Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, who is expected to sweep the NPOY awards this time around.

If you're going to focus on one thing during tonight's NCAA regional final game, that would be it. But here are a few other things that will be key to the outcome:

* THE BENCH. UNC reserves, whittled earlier this season by varying injuries, have been on a roll of late, getting 55 points from the combination of Bobby Frasor, Larry Drew, Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller during the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma's bench production, meanwhile, has been lean at best. It has managed only 12 points over the last three games, and 9 came during it's opening blowout over Morgan State.

* OU's TONY CROCKER. The long-sleeved shirt he wears under his jersey is to help keep him warm. But the Tar Heels need to keep him from getting downright hot again. His 28 points against Syracuse on Friday were a career high, and helped make up for the 2-for-7 performance of Big 12 Freshman of the Year Willie Warren.

* DEON'S DEFENSE. It wouldn't be surprising to see UNC junior Deon Thompson guarding Griffin, and one of the biggest keys will be to try to keep the OU sophomore away from the post. Griffin doesn't like shooting from very far out, and the combination of Thompson and Hansbrough need to try to keep the big guy out of his comfort zone -- while also watching out of that other Griffin brother, Taylor, who starts at the other forward spot.

* DANNY GREEN'S SHOOTING TOUCH. The senior small forward finally started coming out of his shooting slump Friday, making multiple 3-pointers for the first time since the end of the regular season. If he keeps hitting -- as well as Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson -- the Tar Heels might have too much firepower to beat, no matter who wins the Hansbrough-Griffin battle.

-- Robbi Pickeral