Important Matchups

With all the talk about Roy Williams facing Kansas, and with all the talk about Bill Self and the Oklahoma State head coaching vacancy, how about talking about the two most important players KU will battle in its Final Four matchup with North Carolina on Saturday.

They are 6-9 junior Tyler Hansbrough and 5-10 sophomore point guard Ty Lawson. Hansbrough is a scoring and rebounding machine inside, while Lawson runs the break as well as any player in the country. Kansas must contain both and not let them go off for career nights to advance to the national championship game on Monday night.

Hansbrough leads North Carolina (36-2) with 22.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 80.6 percent from the line. The Poplar Bluff, Mo., native also attempts a whopping 9.8 free-throw attempts per game. Meanwhile, Lawson averages 12.8 points and 5.3 assists, and is a game changer in the open court.

While Hansbrough is the consensus national Player of the Year candidate and garners most of the publicity, Lawson is the one who motors the ‘Carolina high-powered attack, which averages 89.2 points per game (No. 2 in nation).

A big key for Kansas with stopping Lawson in the open court is getting back on defense. And the Jayhawks will have to box out and throw four big bodies at Hansbrough all night with Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun, and Cole Aldrich. Self knows the Jayhawks have their hands full with both Lawson and Hansbrough.

"You don't want Tyler to have a huge night, obviously,” Self said. “I think everybody would agree with that. He cannot have a huge night from an Xs and Os standpoint and still come away with 22 points and 13 rebounds from an effort standpoint. He’s going to get get his points and he’s going to get rebounds. (What) we need to do is not let them get easy baskets as generated through transition, through second shots. Of course, in transition, that’s keyed by Lawson because he is the fastest guy I’ve seen as far as going from defense to offense. I don’t think anybody does it better or quicker than him.”

Lawson missed six games in February with a sprained left ankle, and really didn’t get back to 100 percent until the ACC tournament championship game against Clemson on March 16. With Lawson back in fine form, North Carolina has bowled over opponents in its run to the Final Four, outscoring teams by an average of 25.3 points during the NCAA tournament.

The point guard did tweak his left ankle against Louisville in the Elite Eight on March 29.

“I was scared about that,” Williams said, “but he came (in the next day) for treatment and said it felt fine. But it scared him a little bit and scared us a little bit.”

The KU players aren’t scared of Lawson, but they have tremendous respect for him and what he means to ‘Carolina.

“He’s a great player,” said junior guard Mario Chalmers. “We need to keep him in front of us and not give him any layups. We can’t let him get comfortable.”

Senior guard Russell Robinson said Lawson reminds him some of Oklahoma State’s point guard Byron Eaton. Along with MemphisDerrick Rose and UCLA’s Darren Collison, Lawson is being hyped as one of the star point guards in the Final Four. Robinson wants to show he belongs.

But he’s just going to continue playing his game.

"I don't want to get out of character,” Robinson said. “This is the biggest game of the year and I want to keep doing what I've been doing all year for my team. The most important thing is that I just get out there and play harder than I ever have in my life."

Kansas will be facing a player in Hansbrough who plays harder than anybody in America. KU coach Bill Self certainly knows that; he recruited Hansbrough. Self admires the junior’s “toughness,” “passion,” and the way “he goes after it.”

The Jayhawks have to be aware of Hansbrough at all times and not let him get loose on the offensive glass; he averages 3.8 offensive rebounds per game.

“He doesn't take possessions off,” Self said. “You hear it all the time from watching him on TV. It's true. He's been like that for many years. We recruited Tyler pretty hard on his visit here. The thing about him back then was you knew he would be something special. His talent has improved and his skill-set has improved dramatically since he's been at North Carolina.

“You go along with the same work ethic and getting stronger, getting smarter and developing more balance and all those things, that's why he will be the national Player of the Year. I'd say just how relentless he is going after the ball, probably as impressive a quality as he possesses and he possesses a lot of them."

Self said guarding Hansbrough will be different than defending K-State star Michael Beasley since North Carolina has more offensive weapons than the Wildcats, such as Lawson, guard Wayne Ellington (16.6 ppg), and guard/forward Danny Green (11.4 ppg).

“The thing about Beasley is you could maybe help off somebody else right before he catches or whatever, and you’d be helping off a McDonald’s All-American playing ‘Carolina,” Self said. “I do think getting the floor spread allows Hansbrough to get more easy touches than Michael gets. So there are some differences there.”

Hansbrough is also a different player than Beasley.

“Beasley steps out more and shoots the three,” Chalmers said. “Our bigs just have to keep him (Hansbrough) contained and keep him in front of them on offense."

KU sophomore Darrell Arthur said 6-8 senior Darnell Jackson will likely start the game on Hansbrough, but it will be a team effort with all of the Jayhawks’ bigs.

"I think we are pretty deep down in the post,” Arthur said. “We have a lot of guys we can throw at him so we will do that and try to wear him down and not give him any easy looks at the basket down low.

“He’s hard worker, he crashes the boards probably as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen play. He has a will to score, a will to play. He goes a great job of going after the ball. That’s just his style of play. Ever since I’ve seen him play my sophomore year in high school, he’s been that type of player. He’s going to come (at) us pretty hard, we’re just going to try to limit his touches on the block and try to keep him out of the paint.”

At 6-11, Kaun may be be the best defender on Hansbrough. Kaun is also the best post defender on the team.

“If you look at it on paper, Sasha's standing height and size would probably be as good a matchup as we would have with him,” Self said. “That's only going to happen when he's in the game and how many minutes Sasha plays is based on how everybody else is playing.”

Kaun is ready for one of the biggest challenges of his life.

"I'm really looking forward to playing against him,” Kaun said. “He's just unbelievable. He's a great physical player, and he knows how to draw contact. He shoots a lot of free throws which puts us in a position to try to play without fouling as much. He always goes for the boards hard and he knows how to block out. We just have to always try to find him and put a body on him."

KU will put many bodies on him, but Hansbrough will still score 21 points and grab 12 boards. Lawson will add 13 points and six assists, and get the Tar Heels some easy baskets in transition.

Yet it won’t be enough. KU 78, UNC 75.

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