LAHAINA, Hawaii — Before All-American Tyler Hansbrough hurt his right shin and had to sit out more than three weeks, tonight's Maui Invitational championship was projected to be the game when the senior would break Phil Ford's career UNC scoring record.
With Hansbrough still several games away from that feat, the showdown against No. 8 Notre Dame at 10 p.m. EST is important for one key reason: the competition.
The Tar Heels didn't face a ranked foe last season until Jan. 6, allowing them to cruise along for months without a true test. They get several tonight, beginning with 6-feet-8 forward Luke Harangody. The reigning Big East Player of the Year is averaging 25.0 points and 12.3 rebounds, and the Tar Heels may be strapped if Hansbrough feels pain in his left ankle today and can't play tonight.
Other notables tonight:
NO BROTHER VS BROTHER: The Zeller brothers — Tyler for UNC, Luke for Notre Dame — had been looking forward to matching up tonight, until Tyler sustained a season-ending wrist injury. Meanwhile, Hansbrough's brother, Ben, transferred to Notre Dame over the summer, but did not make the trip. He'll be watching the game with the rest of the family in Poplar Bluff, Mo.
REBOUNDING KEY: Texas outrebounded Notre Dame by nine during Tuesday's semifinal, something UNC would like to match. Tar Heel freshman Ed Davis has been on a roll in that role, averaging 10.5 rebounds his last two games.
GOTTA MAKE THE FREEBIES: The Irish made only 10 of their 21 free throw attempts against Texas. And while Hansbrough made 12 of 14 of his freebies from the line against Oregon, his teammate were only 10-for-19.
ANOTHER TOP-10 TEAM: Tonight's game will mark the 22nd time the Irish have faced a top-10 foe under head coach Mike Brety. They are 10-11 in those games.
ROY WILLIAMS ON NOTRE DAME: "I know that Luke Harangody is a big time player and if I’m not mistaken was the Player of the Year in the Big East last year. And then they have tremendous three-point shooters. Don’t expect them to ever miss four straight free throws at the end of the game like they did tonight. …
"Notre Dame had a great year last year and they’re continuing to play that well right now. They do have the threat offensively that is difficult to cover when they can score so well from the inside and shoot the ball from the perimeter so well. We’ve got to get back quickly and get the shooters picked up, sometimes pick them up in the transition so they don’t get open looks.”