- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Heels vs. Hoyas. It’s a matter of pace.

Today’s highly anticipated Elite Eight showdown between Georgetown and North Carolina is likely to come down to tempo.

Roy Williams’ 12-deep, transition-happy Tar Heels would be happy to move today’s East region final across the parking lot to Meadowland Park. North Carolina (31-6) ranked second in the NCAA in scoring this season (85.8 points) and wants to turn today’s game into a sprint.

With its pair of dominating post players, Princeton-based, patient motion offense and superb halfcourt defense, Georgetown (29-6) ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense (57.0). John Thompson III’s Hoyas want a second-gear game in the low 60s.

Something’s got to give.

“There’s no way we can beat them in a track meet,” said 7-foot-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, the player who personifies the Hoyas’ strategic identity. “We can’t let them establish their up-tempo pace.”

One of the primary reasons for North Carolina’s fast-paced offense is the play of freshman point guard Ty Lawson. Williams’ teams have always played fast, but by his own admission, he has never had a catalyst at the core of his up-tempo offense as diabolically fast as the 5-foot-11 guard from Clinton, Md.

“I think Ty Lawson, before he’s finished, has a chance to be the best point guard I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached some really, really good point guards,” said Williams, who has tutored the likes of All-Americans Jacque Vaughn and Raymond Felton in his 19 years as the head coach at Kansas and North Carolina. “He’s got a gear that not even [Felton] had.”

Hibbert knows all about Lawson. The two played AAU ball together for the DC Blue Devils, a team that crushed all comers en route to the AAU national title in 2003.

“I’ve known Roy for a pretty long time,” said Lawson, who averages 10.4 points and 5.6 assists a game. “He was like 6-foot-4 back in fifth grade, when and I was like 4-foot-6.”

When Georgetown employs a man-to-man defense against North Carolina, sophomore guard Jessie Sapp likely will draw the chore of checking Lawson.

“Dee Brown at Illinois was quick last year, but we haven’t seen anybody like Lawson,” Sapp said. “There’s nobody in the nation as quick as Ty. As a defender, you’ve got to play him honest. You can’t sit back way off him and give him wide open shots, but you better give him a little space. We know it’s going to be a serious challenge.”

Georgetown’s lack of backcourt depth could be a major factor in defending Lawson and slowing down the North Carolina running game. The Hoyas have only three true guards on the roster in Sapp, Jonathan Wallace and Jeremiah Rivers.

But over the last two seasons, Georgetown has had a history of thwarting running teams. In 68 games this season and last, the Hoyas have allowed an opponent to post double-digit points in transition only three times. And of those three opponents, only Connecticut, which managed 14 points in transition against the Hoyas in Hartford last season, parlayed that up-tempo production into victory.

“Obviously, that’s one of the keys to the game,” Thompson said. “You watch them play this year, and nobody has been able to slow them down. They’ve been able to dictate the pace in every game.

“Even if you get back and get set, Tywon has the ability to go right through you. … Then the guys they have on the wing and in the post are so athletic that they find seams and holes and alleys most people don’t have. We have to be lucky.”

And the Hoyas have to be able to keep Hibbert (12.7 points, 6.8 rebounds) on the floor. Georgetown’s only clear size matchup advantage is in the post, where Hibbert has five inches and 50 pounds on North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough (18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds). If North Carolina forces Hibbert into foul trouble like Vanderbilt was able to, or if the Tar Heels’ pace forces Hibbert off the floor like Notre Dame was able to in the Big East tournament, Georgetown’s Final Four hopes are likely to wither in a fast-paced flurry.

At least the Hoyas aren’t likely to come out tight, as they admittedly did in recent games against Notre Dame, Boston College (NCAA second round) and Vanderbilt. For the first time in more than two months — dating back to a Jan. 13 loss at Pittsburgh — Georgetown will enter a game as an underdog.

But Hibbert, Green and Co. relish today’s opportunity to play with a little house money.

“There’s always a little bit of an emotional edge when you’re the underdog,” said Green (14.2 points, 6.1 rebounds), who added another page to his stellar college resume with his one-handed game-winner against Vanderbilt. “It going to be a high-intensity game.”

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