Despite suffering another injury to its frontcourt, North Carolina could possibly get a boost Friday from the return of the 2007-08 national player of the year.
Tyler Hansbrough could back be in the lineup for No. 1 North Carolina (2-0) when the Tar Heels travel to UC Santa Barbara.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams indicated that Hansbrough, who has missed three weeks of practice and the first two games with a stress reaction in his right shin, is close to playing again. If the three-time All-American forward doesn’t return Friday, he could play in the upcoming Maui Invitational.
After Tuesday’s 77-58 victory over Kentucky, Williams said he thinks Hansbrough “probably could have already played,” but the coach is letting the senior recover slowly. Hansbrough, who averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds last season, did some light work in practice earlier this week.
“Why rush something like that? I said from day one of the whole deal that we were going to be extremely conservative and that’s what we’ve been already,” Williams said.
Freshman center Tyler Zeller, who replaced Hansbrough and scored a team-leading 18 points in the season opener against Penn, is likely out for the season after breaking his wrist Tuesday. Zeller had surgery Wednesday to repair fractures in two places, and recovery normally takes three to four months.
“It’s another big blow for our team, but it’s more adversity we have to overcome together,” Williams said.
North Carolina is also without senior swingman Marcus Ginyard until December following foot surgery, while senior forward Mike Copeland hasn’t practiced this season because of a knee injury.
Junior forward Deon Thompson has picked up the slack, scoring a career-high 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the victory over Kentucky. Thompson is averaging a team-high 18.5 points along with 8.0 rebounds through the first two games.
Freshman forward Ed Davis, who has averaged a team-best 12.5 boards and 9.5 points, will likely start in Zeller’s place.
UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said he’s looking forward to facing Hansbrough should he return Friday.
“I think it’s great for our guys to play against him,” Williams said. “I tell you what that man does not take a play off. He works as hard as anybody I’ve watched play the game. When we’ve played against him (in 2005 and 2007), it’s impressive to see how hard he plays.”
The Gauchos (1-1) fell 61-59 at home to Utah State on Monday night on a putback with three seconds left.
Santa Barbara returns three starters from last year’s team, which won a school-record 23 games and earned a share of the Big West regular season title.
However, the Gauchos are without one of those players - junior point guard Justin Joyner, who’s done for season after surgery on the broken wrist he played with for 32 games in 2007-08.
The two other returners lead the team in scoring. Senior forward Chris Devine has averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, and junior guard James Powell has scored 15.0 points per game. Powell hit a school-record 46.7 percent of his 3-pointers last season but is off to a 3-for-14 start this year.
North Carolina has won the two previous matchups with Santa Barbara, but the teams have never met at the Thunderdome.