GREENSBORO, N.C. – LSU expects a road-game atmosphere Saturday when it faces top-seeded North Carolina, which owns an all-time record of 26-1 in NCAA tournament games in the state of North Carolina. The Tar Heels haven't lost a tournament game in North Carolina since dropping a 1979 first-round game 72-71 to Pennsylvania in Raleigh.
But the Tigers have reason to feel comfortable away from home. LSU owns a 2-1 record in true road games against tournament teams this year. LSU lost 91-61 to Utah on Jan. 6, but the Tigers also won at Tennessee and Mississippi State.
"It's going to be like a road game, but we're looking at it as they've got to come and play ball just like we've got to come and play ball," senior guard Garrett Temple said. "The fans can't win the game." – Steve Megargee
A case of Duke déjà vu?
GREENSBORO, N.C. – This isn't the first time some of these LSU players have faced a top-seeded team from the state of North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. Junior forward Tasmin Mitchell and senior guard Garrett Temple were starters on the LSU team that surprised Duke 62-54 in the Sweet 16 on its way to a Final Four appearance three years ago.
Mitchell is hoping the memories of that 2007 upset will give the Tigers confidence they can pull off a similar shocker Saturday against North Carolina.
"Everybody was against us and stuff like that, but we weren't worried about it," Mitchell recalled. "We were like, 'We're all we've got,' so we went out there with the mind frame that they put their shoes on just like us and we're going to go out there, play ball and see who comes out with the victory in the end. And it was us. But that's how we're going to approach this game."
Temple also appreciated the similarities between that game and LSU's upcoming assignment with North Carolina, but he also pointed out one major difference.
"[With] Duke, we had a whole week to prepare," Temple said. "This team is a little different. We have only a day, really, to prepare for them. But we're getting their tendencies, understanding what they do, what they like to do, what they don't like to do. Just go on out there with the mindset of winning. It's another game. They put their clothes on just like we do. And they have been beaten before. They're not invincible, so just go out there and play." – Steve Megargee
As the toe turns
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The status of North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson for Saturday's game with LSU remains uncertain as he continues to recover from an injured big right toe.
Lawson and North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Friday that they were waiting to see how the ACC player of the year fared during that day's practice session before determining his availability. The practice session was closed to the media.
"The plan is to have him practice a little or a lot," Williams said. "It just depends on how well it goes. That will be the first test. Then, at 11:30 [p.m.], we'll have the second test. Because by that time we'll know whether there's going to be any swelling or not. … It will be a game-time decision more than likely." – Steve Megargee
Green breaks out of slump
GREENSBORO, N.C. – After shooting a combined 3-of-25 in two ACC tournament games last week, North Carolina forward Danny Green bounced back Thursday with a double-double in the Tar Heels' 101-58 victory over Radford.
Green's slump caused enough of a concern that North Carolina coach Roy Williams approached him this week to make sure nothing was bothering the senior swingman. Green delivered a convincing answer by shooting 6-of-14 and collecting 15 points and 10 rebounds against Radford.
"He was just talking to me, finding out where my head was at, seeing what I was thinking about and if there was anything wrong," Green said. "He said, 'Usually shooters don't shoot like that when they'd been shooting this percentage [47.4] all year, and this weekend you shot this percentage [12.0].' He was wondering what was going on or what was on my mind or if he could do anything to help.
"There was nothing really wrong with me. I just had a couple of bad games." – Steve Megargee
LSU's Johnson ready for Hansbrough
GREENSBORO, N.C. – LSU struggled this season against some of the top big men in the Southeastern Conference. Now the Tigers must deal with one of the top post players in the nation.
LSU center Chris Johnson says he relishes the opportunity to test himself against North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, though the 6-foot-11 senior also understood the enormity of the challenge.
"If you watch film, he's relentless on the offensive boards,'' Johnson said. "You can see how he gets to everything he wants. Once he hits the offensive boards, he goes back up and always ends up with an 'and one.' ''
LSU's regular-season results suggest Hansbrough could have a big game.
Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado averaged 22.7 points per game against LSU this year. Vanderbilt's A.J Ogilvy collected 33 points and 10 rebounds in an upset of LSU. Auburn's Korvotney Barber averaged 17.5 points and 11 boards in his two games with the Tigers.
LSU guard Marcus Thornton expressed confidence in Johnson's chances by pointing out that Hansbrough occasionally has struggled against taller players. Johnson is 2 inches taller than Hansbrough, though Hansbrough has a 40-pound weight advantage.
Thornton saw no need to give Johnson a pep talk.
"I don't think we should tell Chris anything," Thornton said. "If he can't get up for this game, he doesn't need to be playing basketball, period. Tyler Hansbrough is one of the greatest players in the [country] today. If Chris can't step up to the plate like he needs to, he doesn't need to be playing. But I have faith in him.'' – Steve Megargee
Sizing things up
PORTLAND, Ore. – In Thursday's first-round loss to Western Kentucky, Illinois was unable to capitalize on a significant size advantage.
The Illini's bigs – Mike Davis (6-feet-9/210 pounds) and Mike Tisdale (7-1/235) – had the edge over the Hilltoppers' Sergio Kerusch (6-5/210) and Jeremy Evans (6-9/190). Still, Western won the rebounding battle 36-28 and the game 76-72.
When fourth-seeded Gonzaga meets 12th-seeded Western Kentucky in an NCAA South Region second-round game Saturday, the Zags hope to do a better job of capitalizing on their vertical edge. Center Josh Heytvelt goes 6-11 and 260. Forward Austin Daye checks in at 6-11 and 200.
But Heytvelt knows it's about more than height. It's also about heart, as Gonzaga learned in shaking pesky Akron in the second half in its first-round win.
"We have to do like we did [Thursday] and pressure on defense," he said. "That's what created all the offense we had in the second half.
"Even though they are a little bit smaller than we are, their guys are real physical inside and they rebound really well. We have to match those guys' intensity on the boards and play harder on defense than they do." – Gerry Ahern
Press and pillow
PORTLAND, Ore. – Western Kentucky is looking to make its second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16, but the Hilltoppers haven't tired of the spoils of success.
Their vanquishing of Illinois brought tons of media attention, including a photo of senior forward Matt Maresca on the cover of USA Today.
"I didn't expect that," Maresca said. "It caught me off-guard."
Western was back at practice at the Rose Garden on Friday, still a little weary from its late-night, down-to-the wire win. How long did the Hilltoppers soak up the previous evening's success?
"Thirty minutes," sophomore swingman Sergio Kerusch said emphatically. "When I got to the room, I fell asleep. In the locker room, that's about all the soaking I did. Then it was time to slobber on the pillow." – Gerry Ahern
Capel still upset over star being flipped
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Upset as he was after star player Blake Griffin was slung to the floor WWE-style in Thursday's victory over Morgan State, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said he became even more peeved after watching the tape.
"It was awful," Capel said. "That doesn't need to be in our game. It could make the really elite players not want to be in college long for fear of getting hurt."
Griffin suffered a bruised tailbone but is expected to be fine for Saturday's second-round game against Michigan.
"It's been tough watching some of the cheap shots that he's gotten," said Blake's brother, Taylor, also an Oklahoma forward. "He's tough to guard in practice everyday, so I can imagine when you're in the game and your one assignment is to stop Blake and it's not working. You're going to get frustrated." – Jason King
Michigan eyeing Sweet 16
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Excited as he was about Michigan's first NCAA tournament victory since 1998, Wolverines coach John Beilein said a trip to the Sweet 16 would be a huge step for the rebuilding program.
"There was a day when Michigan was a fixture in the Sweet 16," Beilein said. "If you're a fixture in the Sweet 16, you have a chance to get to the Final Four, where we've been several times.
"We have so many great alums and so many loyal students at the university and boosters. I think we were second last year in the Director's Cup. All of our sports are doing so well. It's great when we can have good seasons, too." – Jason King
Freshmen stepping up for Wolverines
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There's no question that Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are the leaders of Michigan's team. But freshmen Stu Douglass and Zack Novak are also playing big roles.
"They're accomplishing more by doing less," Beilein said. "For example, Stu Douglass came in with the mentality of, 'If I can see the rim, it's a good shot.'
"His shooting percentages have climbed as he's been a little more patient. Zack Novak has become a really good defender – and he's playing guys that are 6-8 and 240." – Jason King