Georgia Tech played both Kansas and North Carolina tough this season before losing. With the two powerhouses set to face off in Saturday's national semifinal in San Antonio, SI.com's Bill Trocchi caught up with Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt to discuss the matchup, plus his own Final Four experience in 2004, when Georgia Tech won its semifinal game against Oklahoma State before falling to UConn in the national championship.
SI.com: What player on Kansas concerned you the most when you prepared to play the Jayhawks?
Paul Hewitt: The guy that we were really concerned about was Darrell Arthur. At that time, he was playing really well. He was just so active around the basket both offensively and defensively. He was our primary concern going into the game. After playing them, the guy you really have to pay attention to is Mario Chalmers.
SI.com: Was there a Kansas player that really caused you problems on the defensive side?
Hewitt: Chalmers, because they try to extend you and take chances trying to steal the ball. Chalmers does a great job getting into the passing lanes, which might get them into trouble in this game because you have a guy like [Ty] Lawson who you really have to respect because he can go by anybody. If you are out there in the passing lanes, you might create driving opportunities.
SI.com: As far as the Kansas game, staying in it to the end, what worked for you that night and what gave you trouble?
Hewitt: We played a very tough schedule. We had a very good team, but the schedule got the best of us. I wasn't surprised we were able to stay in the game. We had a freshman point guard and a point guard who had redshirted and had not played Division I ball for three years. Down the stretch, their experience and aggressiveness caused us to make some turnovers and put us too far behind to catch them in the end. It was 69-66 (Kansas) with nine seconds to go and we had the ball. We turned the ball over and they hit a layup at the buzzer. They were able to exploit the point guard play.
SI.com: Now with North Carolina, what player concerned you the most in your preparation?
Hewitt: Ty Lawson. [Tyler] Hansbrough is a great player, clearly an All-American and in my mind Player of the Year, but for us, the tempo that Lawson could create and the easy baskets that he could create was our biggest concern.
SI.com: Was there a player defensively that stood out for Carolina?
Hewitt:Marcus Ginyard. He's really good defensively. I've always felt he's one of the better defensive players in our league.
SI.com: In your game against North Carolina, what worked for you? I remember you guys hit the offensive glass pretty hard in the first half.
Hewitt: We actually felt like we could run on them. We really felt like we could get in transition and get some easy baskets, and we did. They are really good. They are in the Final Four for a reason. At the end of the game, we had two shots to beat them. Hansbrough is so good, he can hurt you three ways. He can hurt you in the halfcourt just by getting his hands on the ball and scoring. He can offensive rebound and he runs the floor as well as any big guy we saw this year, We felt like we would try to take away the halfcourt from him. We would try to box him out, but he has a nose for the ball, and running the floor, he's almost impossible to stop.
SI.com: Looking at these two teams, is there a factor that stands out above all others that may decide Saturday's game?
Hewitt: Which playmaker has a better game, and it doesn't have to be point guard. Who can create a basket? Lawson, Hansbrough, Chalmers, [Brandon] Rush. That's why I give a slight edge to Carolina. They are a team that can get a basket in a freelance situation. I anticipate a lot of possessions in this game coming down to that because Kansas is a really good defensive team and Carolina will be prepared to take away what Kansas likes to do, especially off the ball-screens. Given that scenario, it is going to come down to, who has a playmaker that can make a play with less than 15 seconds on the shot clock?
SI.com: When you look back at your 2004 Final Four experience, what do you remember about the days leading up to the games in terms of distractions?
Hewitt: Our administration and staff did a good job trying to keep a regular schedule. We got the guys off to class, and we didn't even practice on Monday or Tuesday after winning in St. Louis on Sunday. We got to work on Oklahoma State on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We tried to keep the week as normal as possible. We tried to keep the media requests down, make sure they went to study halls and keep things regular.
SI.com: Was there a moment you remember where it hit you that was like, "Hey, we're at the Final Four." Or, "We just won a game at the Final Four"?
Hewitt: Talking to Jim Nantz and Billy Packer after Will Bynum made that shot [to beat Oklahoma State]. I saw the other two teams coming out onto the court and I was like, "Holy smokes. We're going to play one of these teams for the national championship on Monday night." That was the first time it hit me. Up until then, you get so focused on that Saturday opponent, you don't think about a lot of that stuff. When you go out on the court for practice on Friday, you feel it a little bit, but again you are so concerned with your opponent. But doing that interview, and I look over my shoulder and there comes Duke and UConn, and I'm like, "We're still standing. We'll see one of them on Monday."
SI.com: Finally, a prediction for UNC-Kansas.
Hewitt: Carolina because Hansbrough and Lawson, in a tight game, can make plays. Hansbrough is a great free throw shooter. The only thing that can offset that is if Rush has a career game. As talented as he is, there are times when he is reluctant to take the game over. You don't have to worry about that with Hansbrough. He'll take the game over when the time comes. That's kind of why I lean towards Carolina.