Saturday, March 28, 2009

Heels likely to see mix of defenses

MEMPHIS — If patterns hold, Oklahoma will give North Carolina a dual defensive look Sunday in the NCAA South Regional championship game.

Throughout most of the season, OU coach Jeff Capel has mixed zone and man-to-man strategies. In Friday's 84-71 semifinal win over Syracuse, the Sooners played zone variations on about 25 percent of the Orange possessions.

"We're comfortable doing that," said senior forward Taylor Griffin. "I guess it's a little unusual, but I think it's helped us against a few teams. It's surprised a few of our opponents a little, I think."

Zone defenses have given Carolina some trouble over the years, but this season's team generally has been different, due in large part to the perimeter shooting of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green.

"But our plan still is try to go inside first, even if we are playing against a zone. That doesn't change," Lawson said Saturday. "When you have guys in there like we have, you don't to just settle for long jump shots."

When the Sooners go man, the 5-11 Lawson expects to face lanky 6-3 senior Austin Johnson, who has been rated among the top defenders in the Big 12 Conference for the past two seasons. If Lawson's correct, then OU frosh Willie Warren (6-4, 207) would get the primary assignment against Ellington (6-4, 200) with the Sooners' Tony Crocker (6-6, 206) on Green (6-6, 210).

Apart from rebounding, Lawson thinks the outcome will hinge on the abilities of the Carolina perimeter players to find and make shots when the Sooners limit entry feeds to Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis.

"Rebounding is the most important thing, because Blake Griffin gets so many offensive boards [eight against Syracuse, 130 for the season]," Lawson said. "But after that, I believe it's going to be the guards and not just our shooting. We've got to have the best perimeter defense we've played all season. Their quickness is something we've really got to worry about. They're just quick, I mean really quick."

Like most of his teammates, Lawson said without prompting that the Sooners present the biggest challenge of the season.

"If I were just around here this weekend and not playing, this is a game I'd pay to see," Lawson said. "I'd pay what it takes to buy a seat right at courtside, too." -- Caulton Tudor