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April 5, 2008
MORE: NCAA TOURNAMENT CENTRAL
SAN ANTONIO ? Danny Green looked around the court at his teammates as North Carolina fell further and further behind. Their stunned expressions told him no one was ready to knock down a desperately needed shot in the Final Four.
All-American Tyler Hansbrough had found little space inside against Kansas' physical front line. Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson had found even less on the perimeter. And with the Tar Heels trailing by 28 points in a disastrous first half, Green did the only thing he could think of - he started shooting.
"In my mind," he said, "I was thinking we had nothing else to lose."
It might have been the only reason the Tar Heels didn't get run out of the Alamodome by halftime Saturday night.
Green scored 15 points off the bench, including eight in the final 3 minutes of the first half that started North Carolina's frantic comeback attempt that eventually got the Tar Heels to within four points. But the rest of his teammates waited too long to follow his lead, sending the Tar Heels to one of their worst offensive showings of the season in the 84-66 loss.
"I just kept attacking the basket and looking to shoot," Green said. "Nobody else was really looking to shoot. When I got the ball, I was just looking to take my outside shot and take it to the basket and make something happen."
All season, Green had provided the Tar Heels (36-3) with scoring and versatility off the bench, the perfect complement to an offense that had relied on Hansbrough's rugged game inside and easy transition baskets from Lawson at the point.
When Green played well, North Carolina's fast-paced offense was almost impossible to slow. When he struggled, the Tar Heels suffered their only two losses of the season.
But this time, Green came through with a performance that got Carolina back in it while his high-scoring teammates looked lost.
"That's what we were looking for, someone to step up and make some shots," said Lawson, who scored just nine points. "With everybody else, their shots were going in and rattling in and out. It was just a tough first half to play in, and Danny gave us that lift we needed."
That first half might have been the Tar Heels' biggest problem, Kansas' defense aside. They had rolled to plenty of lopsided victories with an offense that had cracked 100 points eight times, including their first two NCAA tournament games. They also had won close games, including on Ellington's last-second 3-pointer to beat Clemson in overtime in January. They just hadn't found themselves in a situation quite like this - trailing big against a team that was just as deep and talented - and it showed.
They started taking quick 3-pointers and stopped feeding the ball inside as often. They missed the open looks they managed to find. They started pushing for a one-shot comeback.
Hansbrough, who collected several national player of the year awards this week, had been virtually unstoppable all season and in the NCAAs. But despite his 17 points, he repeatedly found several defenders swarming around him in the paint as he fought against Kansas' big front line the entire night.
Ellington finished with 18 points, though 13 of those came after the Tar Heels headed to the locker room trailing by 17 points. Before Green got going, the Tar Heels had gone 9 minutes without a field goal and trailed 40-12 with about 7 minutes left in the half.
Green did what he could to jolt the Tar Heels' offense awake, hitting a 3-pointer off a feed from Marcus Ginyard, then another off a feed from Lawson inside the final minute. He followed that with a layup off a steal near midcourt that pulled North Carolina to 42-27 with 13 seconds left in the half.
"Once we got down by a little bit, we kind of got rattled and they kept going," Green said. "They went up big, they got us down and kept us down. When you get down to a good team like that, they're going to bury you."
MORE: NCAA TOURNAMENT CENTRAL