Friday, March 27, 2009 Updated: March 28, 10:19 AM ET
Lawson leads balanced UNC attack
MEMPHIS -- Enough with Ty Lawson's toe.
Given how much time has been spent the past three weeks discussing the UNC point guard's injured right big toe -- and how the ACC Player of the Year responded in each of the past two NCAA tournament games -- opponents have to be wondering whether Lawson even has a right toe anymore.
Ty Lawson orchestrated North Carolina's well-balanced attack in a win over Gonzaga.
A day after UNC coach Roy Williams said Lawson told him his injured toe was about a "six" on a scale of one to 10, Lawson played nearly flawlessly in the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels' 98-77 rout of No. 4 seed Gonzaga in Friday night's South Region Sweet 16 game at FedEx Forum.
Lawson scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half and had nine assists and only one turnover in 27 minutes. He shot 7-for-9 from the floor, including 3-for-4 on 3-pointers.
"I know that yesterday morning I was very concerned," Williams said. "He didn't have very much time at all to get his foot in the pool. We have found that has been the one thing that's helped him more than anything. Because of everything that was going on Thursday, he almost had no chance of getting in there. Last night we were able to get him in the pool. We got him in there this morning, and that was really helpful to him."
Lawson played pretty well in UNC's 84-70 victory over LSU in the second round of the NCAA tournament after he missed the team's previous three games. He scored 23 points with six assists and two steals against the Tigers.
But Lawson told Williams the toe was throbbing after the Tar Heels flew to Memphis from North Carolina on Wednesday.
"The flight and the air pressure when you're up in the plane, I think that added a little bit of swelling to it," Williams said.
The Tar Heels spent most of Thursday practicing and fulfilling their media requirements, so Lawson didn't get to spend any time in the pool. Once Lawson did, Williams said his toe felt much better. Williams said UNC trainers had to get Lawson out of the pool because he nearly sprained his left ankle.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said the toe injury might have helped Lawson in a strange way.
"In some instances, I think the toe injury might have helped Ty," Few said. "He's playing at a great pace right now. He's not forcing anything."
Lawson didn't have to force anything against the Bulldogs because so many of the Tar Heels were knocking down shots.
All-America forward Tyler Hansbrough scored 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds. Guard Wayne Ellington scored 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, and Danny Green had 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting. Green made three of the Tar Heels' 11 3-pointers.
"When Danny's hitting from the perimeter, we've got all our pieces and we're rolling," Ellington said. "They have to respect me and Danny from the perimeter and it gets us easier shots inside."
It probably won't be easy Sunday, when the Tar Heels play No. 2 seed Oklahoma with a trip to the Final Four in Detroit on the line.
The game will pit Hansbrough against Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin, the favorite for national player of the year.
"I think when you go against a player who obviously has done a lot, I just have to play my part within this team and not force anything," Hansbrough said. "I'm not looking at it as a matchup between me and Griffin. You see him play a lot on TV. I don't watch a lot of college basketball and I really don't know a lot about other players' games. Obviously, Griffin is getting a lot of hype. He's deserving and he's a great player."