Apr 3, 2008
SAN ANTONIO — Wayne Ellington and Danny Green can see it coming.
With every pass in North Carolina's halfcourt offense, they know defenders are trying to closely watch them and All-America teammate Tyler Hansbrough in the paint. Sooner or later, the ball will go inside and attract the swarming attention of the defense, leaving them open for a fleeting moment on the perimeter when the ball comes back out.
As the Tar Heels prepare to face Kansas in the Final Four on Saturday night, they need Ellington and Green to do something with those looks to ease the pressure on Hansbrough.
When they're hitting from outside on everything from kickouts to transition 3-pointers - which they've done almost all year - the Tar Heels (36-2) and their fast-paced offense have been hard to slow.
When they're not, such as against Maryland and Duke, North Carolina has looked out of rhythm and suffered its only losses.
So far, the duo, entering their first Final Four, seem unfazed by that burden.
"Going into the game, there's so much excitement and so much adrenaline pumping," Ellington said. "But once the ball is thrown up in the air, I think things will be back to normal. We've all been on some pretty big stages before."
Ellington, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, is the team's No. 2 scorer at 16.6 points per game. Green, a 6-5 junior, is the top reserve bringing a steady 11 points off the bench, and he's athletic and versatile enough to defend on the wing or hold his own against bigger players.
They've offered balance to an offense that relies on Hansbrough's rugged inside game and plenty of easy transition scores from speedy point guard Ty Lawson.
"We've got to try to figure out a way to guard them all," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "You put so much focus on Tyler, he still gets 20 and everybody else has big nights. ... Our focus will be, don't let them be who they want to be. I think in order to do that you have to defend all five spots."
In the Tar Heels' wins, Ellington and Green have combined to shoot 49 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range. Ellington even had a last-second 3-pointer in overtime to cap North Carolina's comeback from seven down with 2 1/2 minutes left in regulation to win at Clemson 90-88 in January.
But in the losses, they combined to average 17 points on 26 percent shooting, including 3-for-22 from behind the arc.
That was most evident in the 89-78 loss to Duke in February. With Lawson sidelined with a sprained left ankle, the Tar Heels needed a big day from Ellington and Green. Instead, they missed shot after shot while the offense degenerated into a Hansbrough-takes-on-all attack. Ellington finished with eight points on 3-for-14 shooting and missed all six 3-pointers, while Green had three points on 1-for-10 shooting.
Green, who has missed 18 of 23 shots in the two losses, said those performances haven't shaken his confidence. But he admitted his first shot in a game can be telling.
"It's a confidence builder," he said. "It gives you more confidence to take the next one and knock the next one down. But a shooter's going to shoot. Even if I don't make the first one, I'll shoot it when I'm open."
The rematch against Duke provided the perfect example of that. Green made a layup just 8 seconds after checking into the game and followed with a 3 a few minutes later. He finished with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting - which included a poster-quality slam over Greg Paulus - to go with eight rebounds and seven blocked shots in the 76-68 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Ellington also bounced back, finishing with 16 points on 6-for-14 shooting, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range.
So far in the NCAA tournament, Ellington has been as consistent as he was during the regular season. Green's tournament has been a little tougher; he struggled with his shot in the first two rounds and got into foul trouble in the East Regional championship against Louisville.
That hasn't mattered for the Tar Heels so far. But with the three other No. 1 seeds here, that won't be true by Saturday.
"Right now we're winning games and trying to make history," Green said. "I know what my role is. I know what my job is. I'm going to continue to do it until we get that last (championship) banner."