Tyler Hansbrough hopes to be back on the court for a second straight game. If he is, Luke Harangody will be waiting.
The two preseason All-American first-team picks hope to highlight this showdown as Hansbrough and No. 1 North Carolina try for a third Maui Invitational title when they face Harangody and eighth-ranked Notre Dame in the tournament final Wednesday night.
For the second time in as many weeks, a pair of preseason All-Americans have a chance to meet in a matchup of ranked teams. Blake Griffin and then-No. 12 Oklahoma beat Stephen Curry’s 21st-ranked Davidson team 82-78 last Tuesday in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
This matchup also marks the second straight night at Maui that two top-10 schools will meet. The Irish (4-0) earned a chance to play for their first invitational title with an 81-80 victory over No. 6 Texas in Tuesday’s first semifinal. The Tar Heels (5-0) rolled to a 98-69 win over Oregon, also on Tuesday.
However, the 6-foot-9 Hansbrough, who had 16 points and went 12-for-14 from the free-throw line against Oregon in his second game of the season, could be kept out of this contest due to lingering affects of a stress reaction in his right shin and a sore ankle.
“The decision will be made during warmups by both of us,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “If he has pain in his ankle, he probably won’t play. If he doesn’t, he probably will play.”
After missing three weeks of practice and the season’s first two games due to the shin injury, Hansbrough had 13 points and seven rebounds in a win over UC Santa Barbara on Friday in which he tweaked his ankle near the end of the game. Hansbrough played 19 minutes Tuesday as the Tar Heels shot 50.8 percent and led 51-22 at the half.
“It’s good to get back out there,” Hansbrough said. “As far as conditioning, I’m out of shape but that will come by playing. My ankle? I felt it a little, but overall I was able to play a little bit.
“I’m hoping my ankle doesn’t stiffen up and hopefully everything will be all right.”
The Tar Heels still have plenty of support around Hansbrough. Danny Green had 21 points and freshman Ed Davis added 11 and 13 rebounds for North Carolina, which held the Ducks to 30.1 percent shooting and outrebounded them 58-33.
Green, a senior swingman who scored 29 points in his first three games, is averaging 23.5 on 19-for-29 shooting in the tournament.
North Carolina, which won Maui titles in 1999 and 2004 and finished second in 1989 and 1995, leads 15-4 in the all-time series with Notre Dame. The Tar Heels won 80-71 on Feb. 23, 1994 in the teams’ most recent meeting.
Regardless of who’s on the floor for the Tar Heels, they’ll be in for a challenge against Harangody and the veteran Irish, who start three seniors and two juniors.
“We are older and have been together as long as any team,” said coach Mike Brey of the Irish, who shot 45.8 percent (11-for-24) from 3-point range against Texas. “I think that translates into maturity and experience.”
That paid off Tuesday as the 6-8 Harangody, the reigning Big East player of the year, had 29 points on 11-for-21 shooting with 13 rebounds, Senior Kyle McAlarney went 5-for-9 from beyond the arc and finished with 19 points for the Irish, who led through most of the game.
“We’re happy we’re playing for the championship, that’s why we came here and we don’t care who it would be against,” said McAlarney, who’s averaging 11.8 points while going 13-for-28 from 3-point range.
Harangody averaged 20.4 points with 10.6 rebounds last season as a sophomore and 25.0 with 12.2 boards this season.
The Irish will face a No. 1-ranked opponent for the first time since falling 84-77 to Duke in the 2002 NCAA tournament.