Hansbrough gets another shot at the national title

Published 12:47 pm Friday, April 3, 2009

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT — Tyler Hansbrough never wanted to dwell on the pressure to lead North Carolina to a national championship. He tried to ignore the expectations to raise his level of play despite being last season’s national player of the year.
Though he insists he came back for his senior season because he enjoyed college life and wanted his diploma, there’s no denying he desperately wanted another shot at a title.
Now he’s back in the Final Four, the final weekend of a college career in which he has gone from always heralded to often criticized — and maybe a little unappreciated — by the same people who have demanded so much from him.
No matter how many times he says it, Hansbrough knows all anybody wants to talk about before Saturday’s national semifinal against Villanova is the missing line on his resume.
Coming out of Detroit with a championship trophy could be the difference between being viewed as an individual player who set numerous records yet fell short of the ultimate goal and one of the college game’s all-time greats.
He set the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career scoring record in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Also this year, he broke both the scoring and rebounding record for the storied North Carolina program by passing big names such as Phil Ford and Sam Perkins, respectively.
He has led the Tar Heels (32-4) to three straight ACC regular-season championships, won back-to-back league tournament titles as a sophomore and junior, and got North Carolina to the Final Four last year.
But things seemed to get tougher for him after he decided to put off the NBA for a year to return to Chapel Hill. After hearing nothing but praise for his iron-willed determination and gritty work ethic, he heard criticism for not putting up the same numbers even though his stats were similar to last year.
True, his scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage dipped slightly from last year. He was constantly the focus of defenses that collapsed on him inside to limit his shots. He got the foul line even less despite taking plenty of contact and hard hits, so much so that it’s common to see him looking for a contact lens that’s been knocked out of his eye in a tussle under the basket. There was also a game at Miami in which he played through what team doctors thought might be a concussion.
And yet, he led the ACC in scoring for a second straight year at nearly 21 points and had 11 double-doubles.
Villanova coach Jay Wright, who will have to devise a way to slow Hansbrough on Saturday, felt the same way.
He’s failed to score in double figures only nine times in his career, and two of those games came immediately after the broken nose he suffered on a hard foul by Duke’s Gerald Henderson in 2007. The last came in last weekend’s 72-60 win against Oklahoma; he finished with eight points and six rebounds while getting in early foul trouble defending Blake Griffin, who has won several of this season’s national player of the year awards.
Not counting those two games with the broken nose, Hansbrough has come back to score at least 21 points in the game immediately following a single-digit scoring performance — meaning he could be in line for a big day against the Wildcats.
A couple more of those, and Hansbrough could finally have the championship he covets.
AP National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this report.