Sports

Next up, Tar Heels take on the dome

North Carolina's Danny Green goes to the basket for a dunk during a practice session. UNC will play Kansas in the semifinals tonight, but the Tar Heels will have to overcome the cold shooting that has plagued them at times in domes in the Final Four.
North Carolina's Danny Green goes to the basket for a dunk during a practice session. UNC will play Kansas in the semifinals tonight, but the Tar Heels will have to overcome the cold shooting that has plagued them at times in domes in the Final Four.

SAN ANTONIO -- They have faced the Cameron Crazies at their loudest, the Wolfpack nation at its meanest and the Clemson fans at perhaps their most excited this season. And won.

But when North Carolina's Tar Heels face Kansas in the national semifinals tonight, they may face their toughest test on the road yet: A dome.

"I've heard that the depth perception can be a little different,'' said shooting guard Wayne Ellington, whose swishes will be key tonight. "But I think we'll adjust to it, and be fine."

At least they hope.

North Carolina (36-2) enters tonight's scheduled 8:47 p.m. tipoff at the Alamodome with a 22-0 record away from the Smith Center. If UNC wins its last two games, it would become the first Tar Heel team since the 1956-57 championship squad to be perfect on the road and at neutral sites.

"We've just been poised and really mentally tough all season,'' senior Quentin Thomas said. "We haven't lost on the road, so hopefully that streak sticks with us all weekend."

But to advance to Monday's title game, UNC must show physical toughness as well. Not only will its outside shooters face solid defense in the form of Jayhawks (35-3) starters Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Russell Robinson, they must also adjust to the depth perception problems sometimes created by the extra space behind the backboards.

Historically, domes have not been kind to the Tar Heels' 3-point shooters in the Final Four semifinals. Consider:

• In Indianapolis in 1991, UNC shot 3-for-18 from behind the 3-point arc in its loss to Kansas. Rick Fox missed seven of those shots.

• In Seattle in 1995, the Tar Heels made only 10 of their 28 attempted 3-pointers. They lost to Arkansas.

• Shammond Williams was 1-for-8, and UNC was 4-for-21, in its loss to Arizona in Indianapolis in 1997.

• A year later in San Antonio, Williams shot 1-for-9 and his teammates were a combined 2-for-14 in their loss to Utah.

• In Indanapolis in 2000, UNC lost to Florida when it shot 5-for-22 (Joe Forte was 3-for-10).

UNC's 1993 and 2005 championship years were exceptions to the dome woes. In those four Final Four victories, the Tar Heels made 25 of their 54 3-pointers (although Donald Williams, in 1993, accounted for 10 of those made).

In the national semifinal round, UNC is 2-5 since 1987 and has shot 36-of-129 (26 percent) from 3-point range in those games, all of which were played in a dome.

Despite the numbers, this year's group isn't concerned.

"It's part of being in a Final Four,'' said the consensus National Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough. "We knew before we came here, and we're prepared for it.

"We always play the Dean Dome. That place is huge but coming in here, this place is kind of enormous in a way. But it doesn't blow me away. I'll be ready for it."

Kansas, though, might be more ready. Although it lost three games on the road this season, it advanced to the Final Four last weekend by winning both of its games in Detroit's Ford Field -- a dome.

"I don't think the whole dome thing is that important,'' said Rush. "It's still a 90-feet court, the 3-point line still the same. ... And both teams have to play in it."

The question today is, how well? Away from the Smith Center this season, the Tar Heels got a pinpoint 3-pointer from Ellington to beat Clemson in double overtime, a key block by Danny Green to seal a down-to-the-wire win at Georgia Tech and 20 second-half points from Hansbrough last weekend to thwart Louisville's comeback attempt and win the NCAA East Regional.

"We've faced a lot of adversity on the road this season,'' Thomas said recently. "We'll be prepared for more."

• UNC's Hansbrough named AP Player of the Year • 2D

  Comments