Not much has changed since first-year head coach Billy Gillispie arrived in Lexington last April from Texas A&M. The Wildcats (4-1) are holding their opponents to 32.4 percent shooting, and they will likely continue what has been a consistent effort this season to limit Hansbrough's touches down low.
On Wednesday night, Ohio State used their zone to frustrate the All-American with multiple bodies thrown his way, limiting him to a 13-point outing on 6-of-19 shooting.
"He's been a tremendous target, but he's been that way for the last couple years, maybe even more so last year than his first year," head coach Roy Williams said. "He started out that way this year, but luckily for us some other guys have been able to make some shots. Last year and for sure the year before, if he goes 6-for-19 we don't win the game, but he goes 6-for-19 and we still won a road game, so that shows that he does have a little more help this year than he had in the past."
The Wildcats held Hansbrough to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting in last season's 75-63 Tar Heel victory in Chapel Hill, and he connected on just one of his five field goal attempts in a six-point outing in Carolina's 83-79 win in 2005 at Rupp Arena.
"I thought Tubby's teams were always really good defensively," Williams said. "When I watch Billy's teams play – their opponents are shooting 32 percent, and so the defensive play is something that's really strong for them and I'm sure that they'll make it more of an emphasis to make sure that Tyler doesn't have a field day."
Hansbrough is averaging 21.3 points and 9.3 rebounds on the season, and in typical Psycho-T fashion, the Poplar Bluff, Mo. native has attempted more free throws (62) than North Carolina's opponents have made (59).
But those numbers mask some of the difficulties that the Tar Heels have faced in the last 38 minutes played without Ty Lawson, who is questionable for Saturday's contest. Hansbrough is connecting on 53.3 percent of his field goals this season, but has made only 12-of-30 shots (40 percent) since Lawson went down with a right ankle sprain in the opening minutes of last weekend's victory over BYU.
The speedy sophomore's absence has limited Hansbrough and his teammates' opportunities for easy baskets as a slower tempo has given opponents a chance to set up in their halfcourt defensive sets. If Lawson does in fact miss his second consecutive game, the point guard duo of Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas will need to push tempo and move the ball efficiently through the offense to get Hansbrough the ball before the defense can collapse.
Most Tar Heel fans have not been overly concerned with this matchup ever since Kentucky lost at home to Gardner-Webb 84-68 on Nov. 7th. But with a triumvirate of scoring options in guard Ramel Bradley (13.0 ppg, 4.0 apg), wing Joe Crawford (17.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and forward Patrick Patterson (15.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and a stifling defense, the Tar Heels understand the difficulties that await on Saturday afternoon.
"I was talking to Coach [Joe] Holladay and I heard that they had lost the [Gardner-Webb] game, and I said, ‘Well, they're going to have their best game for us,'" Hansbrough said. "So I know they're going to prepare well for us. We'll be ready, too."