No. 1 Tar Heels miss Hansbrough's physical play despite easy exhibition win
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Tyler Hansbrough emerged from the tunnel to loud cheers from the Smith Center crowd. Yet as his North Carolina teammates warmed up for their exhibition game Saturday, the reigning national player of the year plopped down on the bench to stay.
Nursing an injured right shin that has kept him out of practice for nearly two weeks, Hansbrough missed his first game -- regular season or otherwise -- since arriving in Chapel Hill three years ago. And while the nation's top-ranked team finished with an easy 102-62 win against North Carolina-Pembroke, the Tar Heels looked very different with their star watching from the bench.
"You can tell in practice: We just play differently when he's not there," senior Bobby Frasor said. "He posts up a lot harder than some of the guys on the team and guys in the country, so it's easy to throw the ball into him and he's going to make a play. ... If we're going to be without him, we just have to find someone else to step up and get rebounds."
The Tar Heels missed the senior's relentless physical presence inside, which has him on pace to set the school's career scoring and rebounding records. With 7-foot freshman Tyler Zeller starting in Hansbrough's place, the Tar Heels didn't have the same ferocity on the interior even though they shot 53 percent.
They hit 10 of 21 3-pointers, though North Carolina -- one of the nation's best rebounding teams last year -- managed a 44-37 advantage on the boards against a team that didn't have a starter taller than 6-5.
North Carolina led 20-19 midway through the first half against the Division II Braves before taking control with a 17-0 spurt, with Zeller scoring six of his 13 points and Wayne Ellington knocking in one of three 3s during the run.
It was a glimpse of what the start of the season could look like if Hansbrough is slow to recover from a stress reaction, which can be a precursor to a fracture without proper rest. North Carolina, the first unanimous preseason No. 1 in the history of The Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, opens next weekend against Penn.
Coach Roy Williams said Hansbrough likely will be re-evaluated Tuesday, which would mark two weeks that he's been out of practice.
"It's really difficult for him," Williams said. "It's been like nine or 10 days now and the only thing we've let him do is shoot free throws. I don't know that the youngster since he got here has ever taken three days off in a row in the middle of July, much less right now."
Seeing Hansbrough wearing a dark suit with a Carolina blue tie on the sideline during a game is a strange sight, enough so that Frasor quipped Hansbrough didn't know where to stand during starting lineups. The last time the Tar Heels played without him was their win against Illinois in the 2005 NCAA championship game. He had missed just one practice at North Carolina -- the day after playing 47 minutes in a double-overtime win against Clemson despite an infected toe last year -- before this injury.
He wasn't the only starter sitting out. Marcus Ginyard, the team's top defender, joined him while wearing a protective boot on the left foot that required surgery last month. Senior swingman Danny Green started in Ginyard's place.
"Right now, we've got to focus on what's ahead," Green said. "We've been through enough where we've had people out and hurt, and we've adjusted to it. We have to pick up the slack and have a couple of guys step up and help in the areas we're losing when [Hansbrough] is out and Marcus is out."
Green and Ellington each scored 16 points to lead the Tar Heels, and Frasor -- who is returning from a season-ending knee injury -- scored nine points on three 3-pointers. Cortez Brown led UNC-Pembroke with 14 points.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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