Published March 30, 2009
| Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Blake Griffin might be the nation's best player. North Carolina brushed him aside with a total team effort. Ty Lawson scored 19 points and Danny Green added 18 to lead the top-seeded Tar Heels to a 72-60 win over Griffin and Oklahoma on Sunday in the South Regional final.
North Carolina (32-4) advanced to the Final Four for the second straight year and will play Villanova in the national semifinals.
Griffin scored 23 points with 16 rebounds for Oklahoma, but the second-seeded Sooners (30-6) went 2-for-19 from 3-point range.
"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."
North Carolina 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.
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina's big man, scored only eight points, but his team still won with ease.
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.
Hansbrough was The Associated Press player of the year in 2008, and Griffin has made an impressive bid for this year's honor. The battle of big men 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.
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.
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. After a 3-pointer by Green put the Tar Heels ahead 28-16, the shot clock ran out on Oklahoma when Griffin was double teamed and the Sooners didn't react quickly enough.
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.
Green scored 14 points in the first half. Hansbrough picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes and played only nine in the half.
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.
"It's not hard to see how talented they are throughout the year. I've always been impressed with them," said Taylor Griffin, who scored four points for the Sooners. "They're as good as advertised, I think."